By Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will provide additional financial support for companies that formerly operated at the now shut-down Kaesong industrial complex inside North Korea, Seoul's Ministry of Unification said on Friday.
The ministry said financial support would total 66 billion won (£44.94 million) for 174 companies that had been affected by the closing of the complex in February last year after South Korea pulled out of the joint venture in response to the North's nuclear and missile tests.
"The government created this support plan to boost government responsibility for Kaesong industrial complex companies and firms involved in inter-Korean business that faced unexpected difficulties after sudden government policy changes," said Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung in a media briefing.
The latest tranche of government aid for Kaesong companies comes on top of the 517.3 billion won that has been awarded since the closure of the zone in February last year.
Businesses have lodged complaints the government had not done enough to help them after the shutdown. Their frustration grew after North Korea's state-run websites said in October local workers were operating in the district, saying it was exercising its national sovereignty in the area.
Seoul at the time said North Korea shouldn't violate property rights of South Korean businesses operating in the zone.
On Friday, North Korean website Uriminzokkiri repeated Pyongyang's stance, saying that South Korea had no grounds to protest as the Kaesong territory has long been declared "a military controlled zone".
South Korean companies have sought permission from authorities in Seoul to visit the complex, which has not yet been granted. Businesses remain split on whether they will accept the government's latest decision to provide financial aid, Chun said, with some accepting and others seeking more support.
"We hope this will be a cause (for businesses) to start anew, that all conflicts (with the South Korean government) over this support issue will be relieved through this round of aid," said Chun, also stating Friday's decision did not mean inter-Korean business efforts were restarting.
(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes)