Factories that ran on Korean cooperation go silent

By Youkyung Lee

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 9 2013 6:38 a.m. MDT

A South Korean army soldier patrols along a barbed-wire fence near a directional sign showing the distance to North Korea's Kaesong city and South Korea's capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of the Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Monday, April 8, 2013.

Associated Press

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PAJU, South Korea — A few hundred South Korean managers, some wandering among quiet assembly lines, were all that remained Tuesday at the massive industrial park run by the rival Koreas after North Korea pulled its more than 50,000 workers from the complex. Others stuffed their cars full of goods before heading south across the Demilitarized Zone that divides the nations.

Amid a stream of increasingly threatening words and actions, Pyongyang on Monday suspended operations and recalled all of its workers from the Kaesong industrial complex, a factory park just inside North Korea's heavily armed border that pairs cheap local labor with South Korean know-how and pumped out about half a billion dollars in goods last year.

For nearly a decade, the complex has been a tenuous but persistent symbol of cooperation in a relationship that now seems at rock bottom.

On Tuesday, the roads leading to Kaesong, the North's third biggest city, were empty of the normal line of cargo trucks and vehicles carrying supplies and people. Inside the complex, a couple of North Korean soldiers, clad in olive green uniforms and riding Chinese motorcycles, patrolled streets that on a normal weekday would have been choked with buses and workers.

A South Korean manager, one of about 400 who remained at Kaesong, said he had been sitting in an unheated office most of the day with four colleagues. Normally, they would be busy checking orders and examining the clothes they produce. But with no work and no television or radio, the manager said they did nothing but "think about the South."

"I feel hungry and cold here," he said as a soft drizzle fell on Kaesong.

Gas and oil is typically sent from the South to keep the heat flowing and the factories churning, but North Korea has closed the border to all workers and goods bound for Kaesong.

"We can't work in Kaesong anymore," he said, declining to be identified because of company rules. "I don't have any good memories left."

The five will share two cars and drive across the border Wednesday.

The pull-out is part of a torrent of provocations and threats Pyongyang has unleashed at Seoul and Washington in recent weeks. The North is angry at U.N. sanctions punishing it for its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, as well as joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea that the allies call routine but that Pyongyang sees as preparation for an invasion.

In what's seen as the latest attempt to stoke fear, North Korea on Tuesday urged all foreign companies and tourists in South Korea to evacuate because it says the rival Koreas are on the verge of nuclear war. Analysts see a direct attack on Seoul as extremely unlikely.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has sought to re-engage North Korea with dialogue and aid since taking office in February, expressed exasperation Tuesday with what she called the "endless vicious cycle" of Seoul answering Pyongyang's hostile behavior with compromise, only to get more hostility.

U.S. and South Korean defense officials have said they've seen nothing to indicate that Pyongyang is preparing for a major military action. But they have raised their defense postures, and so has Japan, which deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo on Tuesday as a precaution against possible North Korean ballistic missile tests.

Analysts say North Korea's rhetoric and actions are intended to force Pyongyang-friendly policies in South Korea and Washington and to boost domestic loyalty for Kim Jong Un, the country's young and still relatively untested leader.

Pyongyang announced Monday that it was recalling all North Korean workers from Kaesong and would decide later whether to shut it down for good. Shutting it permanently would sacrifice jobs in a poverty stricken nation that according to the U.S. State Department has a per capita GDP of just $1,800 per year.

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