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N.K. expels 8 Seoul officials from Gaeseong park

North Korea on Wednesday threw out eight South Korean government officials from their joint venture in Gaeseong in a stern response to Seoul’s move to punish the communist state for the deadly sinking of a naval warship.

Taking steps to its declaration on Tuesday that it would sever all ties with South Korea, Pyongyang also threatened to completely shut down the joint industrial park in Gaeseong just North of the border should Seoul resume its propaganda warfare.

North Korea’s moves came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was discussing with Seoul officials on how to deal with Pyongyang over the March 26 torpedo attack that left 46 young South Korean sailors either dead or missing.

“If the south side sets up even loudspeakers in the frontline area to resume the broadcasting, in particular, the KPA (North Korean army) will take military steps to blow them up one by one the moment they appear by firing sighting shots,” an unnamed North Korean military chief said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. 

South Korean officials arrive at the inter-Korean border office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday after being expelled by the North from the Gaeseong industrial park.  Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald
South Korean officials arrive at the inter-Korean border office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday after being expelled by the North from the Gaeseong industrial park.  Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald
The North also threatened to take measures to “totally ban the passage of personnel and vehicles” from the western section of the border, a move that could completely halt operations in the joint industrial park in Gaeseong.

Considered the last remaining symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas, the Gaeseong complex houses about 110 South Korean firms and is the sole source of income for at least 100,000 North Korean laborers and their family members.

North Korea also notified that it was cutting off the hotline with South Korea at their truce village and their maritime communication links, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

On Monday, South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak announced a set of military and diplomatic measures against the North for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, which would include a massive cut in inter-Korean trade, banning of North Korean ships in South Korean waters and resumption of propaganda offensives.

Pyongyang continues to deny its role in what is said to be South Korea’s worst naval disaster since the 1950-53 Korean War, snubbing the probe results by a team of multinational investigators.

Seoul will not flinch at North Korea’s move, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.

“Instead of apologizing and taking the rightful measures for the attack of the Cheonan, North Korea is moving to undermine the inter-Korean relations,” he said in a media briefing. “We will not flinch at such threats and carry out the planned measures unwaveringly.”

North Korea has been escalating threats of war since Seoul’s official announcement was made over the sunken ship, saying it would abandon all ties with the South until its conservative president leaves office in 2013.

Pyongyang, however, approved the entry of South Korean workers into the border industrial estate for normal operations as of Wednesday morning, indicating its grudging need to keep the venture running to feed its impoverished people.

A complete halt of trade with Seoul would result in Pyongyang’s annual loss of at least $370 million, according to Seoul’s recent data.

Some 467 South Korean workers entered the North Korean city Wednesday following its message of approval via a joint military hotline, according to the Seoul government.

Relations between the two Koreas, who remain technically at war since their conflict ended in a truce rather than a permanent peace treaty, have been deteriorating since the inauguration of the conservative Lee government in Seoul. Differentiating himself from his two liberal predecessors, Lee has conditioned financial aid upon Pyongyang’s denuclearization efforts.

Seoul and Washington are moving to impose international sanctions to further isolate the reclusive state, a delicate issue as international communities are continuing efforts to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang has shunned the multinational talks aimed at its denuclearization, claiming participants -- including South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- have not kept their side of the promise to provide financial compensation.

By Shin Hae-in  (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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