KAESONG, North Korea (AP) — South Korea's point man on North Korea said Tuesday that a joint inter-Korean economic zone soon would become a world-class industrial complex that will employ tens of thousands of workers in hundreds of businesses.
The complex, located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, is one of the most tangible symbols of recent inter-Korean reconciliation efforts, with more than 19,000 North Koreans working in 26 South Korean-run factories manufacturing goods including watches, clothing and athletic shoes.
''I have no doubt that Kaesong will develop into a world-class industrial zone in the near future,'' unification minister Lee Jae-joung said in a ceremony to mark the completion of the complex's first stage. ''Within three or four years, this park will be bustling with 450 business firms and 100,000 workers.''
The South Korean government and its state-run Korea Land Corporation have spent 264.1 billion won (US$287.8 million) building infrastructure in the 3.3 square kilometer (1.27 sq. miles) complex since June 2003, according to official South Korean data.
The accumulated production value of goods manufactured from the complex — which began operation in December 2004 — exceeded $200 million last month, the data said.
North Korean laborers at the site work under the supervision of hundreds of South Korean managers. The goods are exported to South Korea.
Lee said the Kaesong complex received a boon from the second-ever inter-Korean summit meeting this month, in which the leaders of the two Koreas agreed on a second-stage development plan to expand the complex. The leaders also agreed to establish a new joint complex on the North's west coast.
''This is a place where the North and South jointly manufactured the Korean nation's new future,'' Lee said.
At the ceremony, Ju Dong-chan, head of a North Korean agency managing the economic zone, said that, ''Kaesong is now entering a critical stage of development. The North and South must contribute to national co-prosperity and development by nurturing Kaesong as a world-class industrial zone.''