More than a hundred South Korean cars once parked at the now-closed Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) have gone missing, satellite imagery showed on Tuesday, suggesting they may have been repurposed by the North Koreans and are being used elsewhere.
KIC, once a rare symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation, was temporarily closed by the Seoul government in February last year, as part of Seoul’s response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test earlier that year.
Since its closure, a cluster of South Korean cars parked and organized by DPRK officials has often been seen as a sign that Pyongyang is keen on reopening the facility sometime in the future – especially for the South Korean businessmen who still have assets in the complex.
“Wait, the vehicles, all of them are gone?” Lee Joung-duk, a representative of Young Inner Foam, a company which had done business at KIC before its closure said after hearing that the cars can no longer be seen.
His company used a Hyundai Starex to transport North Korean and South Korean staff inside the KIC, Lee said, adding that many of the other KIC factory owners had used similar brands.
“I don’t think North Koreans would have dismantled them all. My guess is that they are currently utilizing those vehicles inside the country,” Lee said, adding the cars are owned by South Korean companies and are their property.
“The cars could be in Pyongyang by now or somewhere in Kaesong City… if that is the case, I am not sure I will be able to get my car back after the KIC reopens.”
Previous satellite analysis by NK Pro showed that vehicles scattered across the KIC after its closure had been moved by North Korean officials to an area in front of a factory, which had been repurposed as a temporary outdoor parking lot.
Under condition of anonymity, one former KIC factory manager told NK Pro in February that it was an “ideal location for DPRK (authorities) to keep watch over the vehicles.”
Imagery from Planet Labs taken on April 22 suggests that the cluster of South Korean cars went missing sometime after March 16.
Another former KIC owner suggested the cars may be still inside the complex.
“The bottom floor of the big factories in the KIC are as large as between a few hundred meters’ square to a few thousands,” Park Yong-man, a representative of Greensol, told NK News.
“Those cars left outside could have eroded over the time. My theory is that the North Koreans could have relocated those cars inside the factory to prevent future damage – I hope that is the case.”
But Dr. Lim Eul-chul, who visited KIC many times before its closure, argued that storing more than 100 cars inside the facilities – as Park suggested – would not be feasible.
“More than 100 cars are missing, and I just don’t think the factories have enough room to store them,” Dr. Lim, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, told NK News.
“In the future, if evidence is found that the factory equipment has gone missing as well, we should take it as a sign that the North Korean government had made the decision that the reopening of KIC may not happen in anytime soon.”
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said they are looking into the issue, but an official on Tuesday declined to provide further comment on the whereabouts of the South Korean cars.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: ROK government