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(LEAD) N. Korea says its workers in Kaesong exposed to benzene

2014/08/27 14:06

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- A number of North Korean workers at an inter-Korean industrial complex have recently come down with fevers and suffered from headaches due to possible exposure to toxic chemicals, informed sources said Wednesday.

The suspected benzene poisoning has prompted two car parts makers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex to suspend the operations of related production lines, according to the sources.

While the exact number of workers affected remains unconfirmed, a source said more than 10 employees at the two small factories have suffered from the health problems since last month.

North Korea has claimed that its workers were apparently poisoned by benzene as most of them were involved in a leather-heating process to manufacture handle covers and other goods.

Citing its initial probe, however, the South Korean government said the chemical has not been used at the workplace.

"The results of a preliminary probe by the management committee for the Kaesong Industrial Complex showed that materials containing benzene are not used (there)," Lim Byeong-cheol, a spokesman for Seoul's unification ministry, told reporters.

Seoul is conducting further investigation into the exact cause of the symptoms among the North's workers, Lim said.

It is the first time that such health problems were reported at the Kaesong facilities, which opened a decade ago.

"If it has occurred due to the working conditions of the factories, I think they will have to make efforts, without question, to improve the working conditions," Lim said.

The Kaesong factory park, located just north of the inter-Korean border, is the last-remaining major joint venture between the two Koreas. It's a fruit of the inter-Korean reconciliation that peaked in the early 2000s.

More than 100 South Korean small and midsized companies employ around 50,000 North Korean workers at the complex.

lcd@yna.co.kr

leechidong@gmail.com

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