South Korea has said it will pull out its remaining workers in the Kaesong industrial zone.
It announced that the withdrawal follows North Korea’s rejection of a call to engage in talks to resolve the current standoff in the area.
The North’s National Defence Commission said the South’s “reckless” behaviour had caused the breakdown in the zone’s operation. It accused the South of “unpardonable” actions that were jeopardising their rivals’ bid to seek peace.
South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said: “Because our nationals remaining in the Kaesong industrial zone are experiencing greater difficulties due to the North’s unjust actions, the government has come to the unavoidable decision to bring back all remaining personnel in order to protect their safety.”
Both sides of the peninsula had already withdrawn most of their workers from the area but around 170 South Koreans had remained behind to protect the assets of the park, estimated to be nearly $900 million (700 million euros).
Since April 3 the North has prevented South Korean workers and supplies from entering the zone, calling the move a “crafty ploy”. Food and fuel is reported to be running low there.
Before work was suspended, the Kaesong site had been symbolic, it was the last remnant of cooperation between the neighbours. The zone opened in 2004 as part of a so-called sunshine policy of engagement and optimism between the two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a truce – but not a treaty.
The South Korean owned factories produced clothing, household goods and motorcycle helmets and employed local workers. The park was a good source of income for the North, generating around $90 million (70 million euros) a year.
The latest developments follow weeks of nuclear war threats from North Korea which started after U.N. sanctions were put in place after the North conducted a third nuclear weapon test.