Seoul: South Korea said it will withdraw all its citizens remaining in a jointly-run industrial park in North Korea after the totalitarian regime rejected a demand to discuss the shuttered complex.
President Park Geun Hye made the inevitable decision to pull the 175 South Koreans still at the Gaeseong industrial zone since it shut down more than two weeks ago, unification minister Ryoo Kihl Jae told reporters on Friday in Seoul, without setting a withdrawal date. North Korea ignored a noon deadline to accept an offer for talks on re-opening the factory.
The Korean peninsula has been on edge since February, when Kim Jong Un’s regime detonated an atomic bomb in defiance of United Nations sanctions then threatened preemptive nuclear strikes against its enemies. The North on 8 April recalled its workers from Gaeseong, the last point of inter-Korean exchange and an important cash source for its impoverished nation.
North Korea’s National Defense Commission threatened final, decisive and serious measures against the South’s ultimatums, according to a statement on the official Korean Central News Agency. The South should withdraw its citizens from Gaeseong if concerned about their well-being, KCNA said.
The complex, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the demilitarized zone between the two countries, employs more than 53,000 North Koreans at 123 South Korean companies. North Korea generates $100 million in annual profits there, while South Korea makes quadruple that amount, according to Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
North Korea on 3 April blocked South Korean access to the complex only allowing them to leave. Since all traffic from the South into Gaeseong was banned, remaining South Koreans have been suffering from a shortage of food and medical resources. One citizen returned to Seoul yesterday after suddenly falling ill, the unification ministry said.
With the US and South Korea calling on North Korea to return to negotiations, Park’s options to pressure Kim Jong Un are very limited, said Kim Young Yoon, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
South Korean companies operating there have urged the government to break the impasse and address damages from the loss of operations. The association representing them on Thursday issued a statement calling for talks between the two countries as soon as possible.
Kim Jong Un, who took over as leader in December 2011 following the death of father Kim Jong Il, has rebuffed international inducements to abandon nuclear weapons development. The Obama administration has rejected claims North Korea possesses the ability to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles while warning Kim’s inexperience raises the possibility of errors.
The North is ready to conduct another nuclear test at any moment, South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said 23 April. North Korea vowed to strengthen its nuclear program after a US state department report found the country guilty of egregious and pervasive human rights abuses. BLOOMBERG