ALMOST 100 South Koreans left the North Korean factory which is the last open link between the two countries yesterday, four days after Kim Jong-un’s regime closed the border to people and goods.
Their departure from the Kaesong industrial complex just north of the heavily armed Demilitarised Zone leaves just 500 South Korean workers in the increasingly isolated North.
South Korea’s unification ministry said another of the 120 companies at the complex shut down yesterday, the fourth since the North barred entry on Wednesday.
The closing of the border crossing is among many provocations ordered by Kim in recent weeks. His regime has also made war threats as it expressed outrage over United Nations’ sanctions imposed over its February nuclear test, and over ongoing American-South Korean annual military drills due to last until the end of the month, which the North describes as rehearsals for war.
Outsiders say the North is talking tough to win talks and aid from the US, a softening of South Korean policy and to allow new leader, Kim, to establish his authority over his largely impoverished people.
Meanwhile foreign embassy staff in the North remained in place yesterday despite an appeal by Pyongyang for diplomats to consider leaving because of heightened tension.
North Korean officials told diplomatic missions they could not guarantee their safety from next Wednesday – after declaring armed conflict inevitable.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a government official as saying diplomats were largely disregarding the suggestion that they should leave the country.
“We don’t believe there’s any foreign mission about to leave Pyongyang,” the unidentified official was quoted as saying. “Most foreign governments view the North’s message as a way of ratcheting up tension on the Korean peninsula.”
North Korea has been angry since new sanctions were imposed following its third nuclear weapons test in February. On Friday China’s Xinhua news agency quoted the North’s foreign ministry as saying the issue was no longer whether but when a war would break out.
Most countries saw the appeal to the missions as little more than rhetoric after weeks of threatening to launch a nuclear strike on the US and declarations of war on the South.
But Russia said it was “seriously studying” the request. A South Korean official expressed bewilderment. “It’s hard to define what is its real intention,” said the official. “It might have intensified threats to strengthen the regime internally or to respond to the international community.”