SEOUL, March 30, 2009 (AFP) - North Korea has detained a South Korean employee at a joint industrial estate north of the border for allegedly criticising its political system, Seoul officials said Monday.
The unification ministry said the communist state sent a letter earlier Monday announcing that the employee at the Kaesong complex has been held for investigation.
"North Korea said in the letter that the person is under investigation for criticising its political system," said ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-Joo.
Cross-border relations have been worsening for months, with the North intermittently blocking access to Kaesong and scrapping all peace pacts with the South.
Regional tensions are also rising as Pyongyang prepares to launch a satellite, possibly this weekend. The United States, South Korea and Japan say the real purpose of the launch is to test a long-range missile.
The spokeswoman did not identify the employee for safety reasons. She said authorities promised to guarantee the detainee's "health, personal safety and human rights" during the investigation.
The Seoul-funded Kaesong estate opened in 2005 as a symbol of reconciliation between two countries still technically at war following their 1950-53 conflict.
But its operations have been hampered several times due to political tensions.
A business chief said the worker is a man but declined to give further details about him.
"North Korean authorities have often questioned South Korean employees for talking about sensitive political issues, a banned topic in Kaesong," said Yoo Chang-Geun, vice chairman of the Corporation of Kaesong Industrial Council.
Yoo told AFP the authorities usually take such cases "very seriously" and normally fine or expel the individual.
The North this month several times shut the western border crossing to Kaesong in protest at a joint US-South Korean military exercise which it called a rehearsal for invasion.