North Korea ordered all South Koreans to leave a joint factory park immediately Thursday, only hours after an official from the South suggested that a planned withdrawal from the Kaesong Industrial Complex was going “smoothly”.
What was once a symbol of Seoul-Pyongyang cooperation will now become a military zone just north of the inter-Korean border, suggested a statement carried by North Korea’s official news agency.
Seoul had announced a day earlier that it was suspending operations at Kaesong following the North’s long-range rocket launch Sunday, while urging Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapon ambitions.
The closure of the facility, a product of relatively strong inter-Korean ties in the early 2000s, will mean the loss of jobs for nearly 55,000 North Korean workers -- as well an uncertain future for their employers, 124 South Korean firms.
All assets belonging to those businesses are to be frozen, while the North also said it was severing communication hotlines with its more prosperous neighbor.
The series of events since Sunday represents a ramping up of tensions between two countries still technically at war having never signed a peace treaty after their 1950-53 conflict.
Kaesong’s suspension from South Korea’s perspective is likely to be the first of several significant measures aimed at cutting North Korea’s ability to fund its nuclear development.
While on a trip to the United States, the South’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se called on the United Nations Security Council Wednesday to break the cycle of resolutions and North Korean provocations.
As Pyongyang has repeatedly ignored U.N. resolutions with nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, Yun told reporters that “very large prices should be paid for habitual violations of Security Council resolutions”.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry also said that Yun asked for a “resolution beyond the North's prediction”.
Meanwhile, military leaders from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan agreed during joint talks Thursday to “react resolutely” through cooperation, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The U.S. is reportedly set to dispatch a Navy attack submarine to the Korean Peninsula next week, in a similar show of force to that which Washington demonstrated with a B-52 bomber fly-by after January’s nuclear test in the North.