An industrial park formerly viewed as a symbol of cooperation between the two halves of a divided Korea is now a focal point in a tug-of-war between the communist North and democratic South.
On Thursday, North Korea ordered all South Koreans out of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, froze all South Korean assets there, declared the “area under the military control,” and cut two inter-Korean communication hotlines.
The North’s moves come a day after South Korea announced it was pulling out of Kaesong in retaliation for North Korea’s nuclear test last month and a long-range missile test on Sunday.
“The South Korean puppet group will experience what disastrous and painful consequences will be entailed by its action,” North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement issued on Thursday. The committee is the North Korean government agency in charge of relations with the South.
North Korea often uses bellicose language as it contends that the South Korean government is a puppet of the United States. In its Thursday announcement, the committee also called South Korean President Park Geun-hye “a traitor for all ages.”
On Wednesday, South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo accused Pyongyang of using the wealth generated by the joint venture to fund its weapons programs instead of using the cash to help the North Korea’s impoverished population.
“It appears that such funds have not been used to pave the way to peace as the international community had hoped, but rather to upgrade its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles,” the ministry said.
The South Korean military on Thursday retrieved three pieces of what it believes to have been the rocket's combustion gas jet nozzle from the ocean floor off an island located about midway along the west coast of South Korea, the country's Yonhap news agency reported.
Kaesong has long been controversial in South Korea, with some Koreans there arguing it had undermined international sanctions designed to put pressure on the North to curb its nuclear and missile programs.
Others contend that it gave North Koreans a glimpse of life in the more prosperous South and helped ease tensions between the two countries.
North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said on Thursday that Kaesong had “operated for the common prosperity for more than a decade,” calling its closure “little short of an act of dropping an axe on one's own foot” and “a dangerous declaration of a war.”
Some South Korean workers left Kaesong before North Korea's announcement, and a handful of others were seen leaving afterward, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, but South Korean officials said they didn't know what would happen to its nationals who had not departed by North Korea's 5:30 p.m. (Seoul time) Thursday expulsion deadline.
They also wouldn't say how many workers remained at Kaesong’s factories. South Korea said it would bar reporters from the border crossing on Friday.
Well after the deadline passed, a South Korean manager at Kaesong in a phone call with AP said he had been told to wait for further instructions from South Korean officials.
The South Korean government has promised financial assistance to the more than 100 companies that operated in the Kaesong.
"The government will preferentially come up with measures to counter the fallout stemming from the shutdown, such as manufacturing delay or cash shortage," said Lee Suk-joon, an official in charge of government policy coordination, according to Yonhap.
Reported by RFA's Korea Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.