S. Korea, US brace for hostage crisis at Gaeseong
The militaries of South Korea and the United States are charting scenarios on a possible hostage crisis at the joint Gaeseong Industrial Complex in North Korea, as tension is rising over the sinking of the South Korean Navy frigate Cheonan on March 26, the country's defense chief said Thursday.
"There is a possibility that South Korean workers may be held at the Gaeseong site, so the government is discussing countermeasures with the United States," Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young said during a breakfast meeting with senior journalists at the ministry in Seoul.
Kim didn't elaborate on what kind of scenarios and course of joint military action were being talked about.
On Monday, the Seoul government said the number of South Korean citizens at the Gaeseong complex will decrease.
North Korea expelled eight South Korean officials from the industrial park, Wednesday, and threatened to shut it down should Seoul resume propaganda broadcasts at the border.
About 900 to 1,000 South Koreans stay at the complex on weekdays, and about 300 to 400 on weekends, according to a Ministry of Unification official.
The figures will be cut by as much as 60 percent, the official said, asking not to be identified.
Established in 2003, the complex is considered the last symbol of improved inter-Korean ties. More than 120 South Korean companies employ about 42,000 North Koreans there, the official said.
President Lee Myung-bak announced early this week "resolute" steps, including severing trade ties with Pyongyang, barring North Korean ships from navigating South Korean waters and referring the Cheonan incident to the U.N. Security Council.
Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, echoed a stern response to the North.
"We call on North Korea to cease all acts of provocation and live up to the terms of the past agreements including the Armistice Agreement," Sharp said in his Memorial Day speech at the Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, Thursday.
Sharp, who concurrently serves as chief of the U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command, supported South Korea's steps to punish North Korea over the attack on the Cheonan, which claimed the lives of 46 sailors.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Korean allies and other nations in the United Nations Command and will sustain our efforts to deter and defeat aggression," the commander said.
한미, 개성 인질가능성에 대비
천안함 침몰사건의 긴장고도가 심해지면서 한미가 개성공단의 인질 가능성에 대비해 전략을 짜고 있다. 김태영 국방 장관은 언론사 부장단과의 조찬에서 "남한인이 북한의 개성공단에 억류될 가능성이 있어 미국과 대응책을 마련하고 있다" 고 말했다.
월요일 정부는 개성공단에 있는 내국인 수가 줄어들 거라고 밝혔다. 수요일 8명의 한국인이 개성공단에서 추방당했고, 북한은 대북확성기를 철수하지 않으면 개성공단을 폐쇄하겠다고 으름장을 놓았다.
공단에는 주중 900내지 1000명 정도의 한국인이 있고 주말에는 300-400명이 일하고 있다.
이명박 대통령은 월요일 북한과의 교류를 모두 중지하고 북한이 우리 영해에 접근하지 못하게 하며 유엔 안전보장이사회에 천안함 조사결과를 회부하겠다고 말했다.
월터 샤프 한미연합사령관은 한국의 대응책을 지지하고 북한은 도발행위를 멈추고 정전협정 등 모든 과거 협정에 따르라고 촉구했다.