Seoul reports fire at abandoned joint factory park in North

Apr 21, 2022, 4:27 AM | Updated: 4:41 am

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A fire erupted at a now-shuttered inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea on Thursday, but it wasn’t immediately clear if any South Korean property was damaged, officials said.

The fire was detected from a front-line South Korean observatory post at about 2 p.m. and appeared to have been extinguished about an hour later, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

The ministry, which oversees relations with rival North Korea, said it will try to confirm any damage at the complex in Kaesong city. North Korean state media didn’t immediately report the fire.

The industrial park, established in 2004 during a period of warming ties between the divided Koreas, was once viewed as a test case for reunification because it combined South Korean technology and knowhow with cheap North Korean labor. The complex’s operation was suspended in 2016 amid tensions over North Korea’s weapons program, leaving South Korean equipment and other assets abandoned there.

South Korean businesspeople who ran companies at the park have repeatedly expressed a desire to visit the complex because of concerns about the condition of machinery and manufacturing materials left there. A planned visit approved by the South Korean government in 2019 fell through after North Korea ignored the request.

In 2020, North Korea threatened to dismantle the entire factory complex, and then blew up an empty South Korean-built liaison office there.

South Korea has accused North Korea of destroying South Korean-owned facilities at another dormant jointly operated project — a resort at North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain where they ran tours together.

South Korean officials said they haven’t detected signs that North Korea is demolishing South Korean property at the Kaesong industrial park. South Korean media reported that authorities believe the fire at Kaesong wasn’t deliberately set.

Earlier Thursday, Kwon Young-se, who has been nominated to be unification minister under South Korea’s incoming conservative government, said the South should take a stronger stance toward North Korea over damage to South Korean property at the Kaesong park and Diamond Mountain resort.

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Seoul reports fire at abandoned joint factory park in North