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South Korean soldiers stand at a military checkpoint leading to North Korea's Kaesong joint industrial complex, in the border city of Paju/AFP

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Toxic chemicals hit N. Korean workers in joint Kaesong complex

South Korean soldiers stand at a military checkpoint leading to North Korea's Kaesong joint industrial complex, in the border city of Paju/AFP

South Korean soldiers stand at a military checkpoint leading to North Korea’s Kaesong joint industrial complex, in the border city of Paju/AFP

SEOUL, August 27 – Scores of North Korean workers employed by South Korean factories at a joint industrial complex have fallen sick after possible exposure to toxic chemicals, sparking criticism from Pyongyang, Seoul officials said Wednesday.

The affected workers at two car parts companies in the Kaesong complex have gone on sick leave, citing headaches and nausea, the South’s unification ministry said.

The ministry declined to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that dozens of workers were affected.

The North said its workers had been poisoned by toxic chemicals but rejected the South’s proposal for an investigation by independent experts, it said.

“It is important to figure out how it happened,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-Cheol told reporters.

“Most important of all is an epidemiological investigation by experts into the exact cause of such an industrial accident.”

The complex, which opened in 2004 as a rare symbol of cross border cooperation, employs some 50,000 North Koreans in 120 South Korean light industrial firms.

The two Koreas set up a joint committee to run Kaesong after the zone shut down completely for five months last year as tensions surged in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test.

South Korea has been pushing hard for overseas involvement in the zone, believing the presence of foreign firms would make it harder for Pyongyang to shut down the complex in the future.

But the real barrier remains the huge potential for instability due to the total incompatibility of the two countries that operate Kaesong.

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