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South Korea to pull workers from Kaesong complex in North Korea

April 26, 2013|By Jung-yoon Choi
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye, center left, presides over an emergency meeting in Seoul about the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, center left, presides over an emergency… (Ahn Jung-hwan / Associated…)

SEOUL -- South Korea said Friday it would pull its remaining workers from an industrial complex run jointly with North Korea after Pyongyang refused an offer to begin talks.

Located just north of the demilitarized zone between the two countries, the Kaesong complex has been idle for more than two weeks, since North Korea blocked access to the site and withdrew its employees.

South Korea had given the North until Friday to answer its call to begin negotiations, saying more than 170 South Korean workers who remain at the complex were running short on food and medical supplies.

When officials in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, turned down the offer, calling it insincere, the government in Seoul made the "unavoidable decision" to pull out its nationals for their safety, South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in televised remarks Friday.

The South Korean broadcaster YTN reported that about 100 workers would return home this weekend with the rest expected back on Monday.

The clash over Kaesong, a rare symbol of cooperation between North and South Korea, comes at an uneasy time on the peninsula. North Korea angered Seoul by carrying out its third nuclear test in February and has since issued fiery threats against the South and its U.S. allies in response to annual joint military drills and new United Nations sanctions.

A recent lull in the rhetoric has raised hopes that tensions will subside after the U.S.-South Korea military exercises are completed at the end of the month. So far, neither side has talked publicly about permanently closing Kaesong.

“As long as the exercises are going on, they’re not going to talk,” said Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. “But I would expect after a period when the dust settles, we’ll get back to negotiations. ... There’s too much interest on both sides in keeping Kaesong going.”


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Choi is a special correspondent. Emily Alpert in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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