North Korea has ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of co-operation with South Korea,
Pyongyang went so far as to declare Seoul’s earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility – following the North’s recent rocket launch – a “dangerous declaration of war.”
The North said it was responding to Seoul’s shutdown order by immediately deporting the hundreds of South Koreans who work at the complex just across the world’s most heavily armed border in the city of Kaesong, pulling out the tens of thousands of North Korean employees and freezing all South Korean assets. The North also said it was shutting down two crucial cross-border hotlines.
Hours after the expulsion deadline, South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for ties with the North, said all of the 280 South Korean workers from the facility had returned home.
The North’s moves significantly raised the stakes in a standoff that began with North Korea’s nuclear test last month, followed by a long-range rocket launch on Sunday that outsiders see as a banned test of ballistic missile technology.
South Korea responded on Thursday by beginning work to suspend operations at the factory park, one of its harshest possible punishment options. “I was told not to bring anything but personal goods, so I’ve got nothing but my clothes to take back,” a manager at a South Korean clothing company at the complex said.
Chang Beom Kang, who has been running a clothing company in Kaesong since 2009, said from South Korea that his company has about 920 North Korean workers – who didn’t show up on Thursday – and seven South Korean managers at Kaesong.
He said one of his workers, who entered Kaesong earlier on Thursday, was about to cross the border to return to South Korea with thousands of women’s clothes produced at the factory. But at the last minute the employee had to drive back to the factory to unload the clothes because of North Korea’s announcement that it would freeze all South Korean assets there.