The two Koreas established limited commercial telephone links across their heavily armed border on Wednesday for the first time in their 60 years of division, officials said. The cross-border phone service is exclusively for South Korean businesses operating in an industrial zone in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Seoul.
Three-hundred phone lines were established to the complex, according to Koo Ja-ho, a spokesman for KT Corp., South Korea's main telecommunications company. South Koreans run 15 factories there using cheap North Korean labor.
Telephone lines between the countries were severed in 1945, after Soviet troops occupied what later became the communist North. The two countries have remained separated since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
"Following the opening of phone and fax service in the Kaesong industrial complex, sufficient consultation with the North is necessary to expand exchange and cooperation in the overall information and communications sector," Chin Dae-je, the South's minister for communications, said at a ceremony in the industrial zone.
Chin's remarks were carried by South Korea's Yonhap news agency. Foreign media were not allowed to directly cover the ceremony. The Kaesong industrial complex is one of the showcase inter-Korean projects launched after the landmark 2000 summit between leaders of the divided states. South Korean companies started producing kitchenware and other goods at the site last year.
About 6,000 North Korean workers are employed at the southern-run factories. South Korean officials said the number of such factories will rise to around 300 by the end of next year and to 1,000 within the following several years, reports the AP. I.L.