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NKorea again shuts border despite end of military drill

North Korea on Friday again shut its border to traffic to and from a Seoul-funded joint industrial zone even though a US-South Korean military exercise has ended, officials said.

world Updated: Mar 20, 2009 13:21 IST

North Korea on Friday again shut its border to traffic to and from a Seoul-funded joint industrial zone even though a US-South Korean military exercise has ended, officials said.

When the exercise began on March 9, the communist state barred border crossings to and from the Kaesong estate in protest at what it called a rehearsal for invasion.

Amid media criticism that the North was taking South Koreans stranded at the complex hostage, it reopened the border the following day.

The North closed the frontier again on March 13, leaving 250 South Koreans stranded in Kaesong and starving factories of raw materials.

This week the frontier reopened -- but on Friday crossings halted again.

"The North keeps telling us to wait," said a Seoul unification ministry spokeswoman, Lee Jong-Joo. South Korean officials were talking to North Koreans in charge of Kaesong but they gave no reason for the delay in approving crossings, she said.

South Korea was seeking approval for 667 northbound crossings and for 522 passages southbound on Friday.

Factory owners and Seoul officials say the uncertainty is damaging business prospects at Kaesong, which opened just north of the border in 2005 as a symbol of reconciliation.

About 39,000 North Koreans work for 98 South Korean firms there, producing labour-intensive items such as watches, clothes, shoes and kitchenware.

Raw materials are trucked north and finished products travel the other way.

Some analysts believe the North is prepared to jeopardise the project in order to press Seoul's conservative government to drop its tougher policies, despite the almost 27 million dollars in wages it received last year.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has enraged Pyongyang by rolling back his liberal predecessors' policy of reconciliation and exchange and by linking major economic aid to progress on denuclearisation.