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April 7, 2013

Made in Korea

NORMAN — There is a North Korean factory with no portraits of the country’s late leaders on the walls, no North Korean flags, no hand-painted posters screaming party slogans. Everything from the tissues to the toilets comes from South Korea.

Bent over bolts of wool and rayon, North Koreans work quietly to the hum of sewing machines making shirts, suits and overcoats that will go out with vaguely Italian names. Virtually the only hint of North Korea in the factory is a calendar on the wall that proclaims, “The Great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il Will Always Be With Us.”

Today, this factory and others in the Kaesong industrial complex, managed by South Koreans and staffed by North Korean workers, face the prospect of closure. Since Wednesday, North Korea has refused to let in South Korean managers and trucks bearing food, materials and supplies.

It’s seen as punishment for Seoul’s decision to forge ahead with joint military drills with the United States that continue through April and have incensed Pyongyang, which sees the exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion. Restricting travel through the armed border is also a way to remind the South Koreans that a state of war remains intact on the Korean Peninsula 60 years the fighting ended with a truce. Pyongyang also is angry with Seoul for backing tightened U.N. sanctions on North Korea for conducting a banned nuclear test in February.

North Korea has been raising its war rhetoric for weeks now, but so far, Kaesong is the main casualty. More than 500 South Koreans remained there Saturday and are free to stay, but their companies are beginning to run out of supplies. They hope this disruption ends up being similar lasts no longer than one in 2009 that lasted about a week.

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