September 16, 2013 - 11:56 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - South Korean workers have returned to the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea, five months after work was halted amid high political tension.
Trucks and cars began crossing the border into North Korea at exactly 08:00 (23:00 GMT Sunday). More than 800 South Koreans were due to cross to the jointly-run centre for what is being called a trial restart.
The park, established in 2004 during a period of warming ties between the Koreas, was considered a test case for reunification. It combined South Korean knowhow and technology with cheap North Korean labor. It was also the last major cross-border cooperation project before Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers in early April to protest annual military drills between Seoul and Washington and alleged insults against the country's leadership.
But the North withdrew all of its workers in April, as ties between the two Koreas deteriorated in the wake of Pyongyang's February 12 nuclear test.
Reopening the complex has taken months of negotiation.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said a total of 820 managers and workers planned to cross into the complex on Monday, with 400 to stay there overnight. They will be inspecting production facilities to assess how quickly a full restart can be implemented after five months of inactivity.
The restart is being described as a trial but more than half of the South Korean companies had asked North Korean employees to report for work, the ministry said.
"I feel good about the park's resumption, but I also have a heavy heart," said Sung Hyun-sang, president of apparel manufacturer Mansun Corporation, which has lost about 7 billion won ($6.4 million) because of the shutdown at the Kaesong factory complex. "We've suffered too much damage," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
By the end of 2012, the more than 120 South Korean companies with operations at Kaesong had produced a total of $2 billion worth of goods during the previous eight years.
The South Korean government provided about 150 billion won in insurance payments to 46 of those companies because of the shutdown, but they were required to return the money because the park has resumed operations, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.