Workers Return to Joint Korean Industrial Park

About 800 South Koreans trickle back to the facility just north of the DMZ.

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Lee Jae Won / Reuters

North Koreans work at a garlic processing factory that a South Korean company invested in, in Kaesong, Feb. 6, 2007.

South Korean workers began returning to the Kaesong industrial park Monday, in a sign that tensions on the Korean peninsula are easing after years of new bluster from the hermit kingdom, the Associated Press reports.

Launched in 2004 amid warming relations between the two Koreas, the Kaesong facility combines cheap North Korean labor with South Korean technical expertise. Before re-opening, the facility spent five months offline after Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers in April to protest annual joint military exercises conducted by South Korea and the United States. The extended closure of the Kaesong park reportedly cost the 123 South Korean businesses operating there a combined $920 million, and some business owners are unsure about their ability to flourish even with the park back open.

“We’ve suffered too much damage,” one business owner told the AP.

Analysts are divided, says the AP, about what motivated the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s to allow the facility to restart. Kaesong is a rare source of hard currency for the cash-strapped pariah state, leading some to speculate that the country needed to reopen the facility. Others wonder if Kim Jong Un has simply allowed workers back to the plant so he can threaten to pull workers out again for political leverage if necessary.

The facility is a rare bright spot in the strained relationship between the two Koreas, which has been marred by deep distrust and the North’s open commitment to developing a nuclear arsenal.

[The Associated Press]