North Korea today ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, saying Seoul’s earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North’s recent rocket launch was a “dangerous declaration of war.”
North Korea 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 communication hotlines. An immediate worry in Seoul was whether all South Korean workers would be allowed to leave. Some analysts speculated that the North would hold onto some to get all the wages owed North Korean workers.
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.
Some South Korean workers left Kaesong before North Korea’s announcement, and a handful of others were seen leaving afterward, but South Korean officials didn’t know what would happen to its nationals who had not departed by North Korea’s 5:30 pm (Seoul time) expulsion deadline; they also didn’t know how many workers remained at the factories.
South Korea said it would ban reporters from the border crossing tomorrow.
Well after the deadline passed, a South Korean manager at Kaesong told The Associated Press by phone that he had been instructed to wait for further instructions from South Korean officials.
The manager at a South Korean apparel company at the complex, who declined to give his name, said he and one other South Korean at his company were waiting in an office for word about when they could leave.
The man, who said he’d worked at Kaesong for about 10 years, said he was not sure whether he would return to the South today. He said he did not see any North Korean officials and did not know whether other South Koreans were there.
“I was told not to bring anything but personal goods, so I’ve got nothing but my clothes to take back,” the man said, adding that he wasn’t worried about being taken hostage.