2 years ago
The Associated Press PAJU, South Korea –BY AHN YOUNG-JOON North Korea ordered Thursday a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul’s earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North’s recent rocket launch a “dangerous declaration of war.” North Korea said it was responding to Seoul’s shutdown order by immediately deporting the hundreds of South Koreans who work at the complex just across the world’s most heavily armed border in the city of Kaesong, pulling out the tens of thousands of North Korean employees and freezing all South Korean assets. The North also said it was shutting down two cross-border communication lines. Hours after a deadline set by North Korea passed, South Korea’s government said all of the 280 South Korean workers who had been at the facility had finally returned to the South. Their departure quashed concerns that some might be held hostage, and lowered the chances that the standoff might lead to violence or miscalculations. Tensions have risen since North Korea’s nuclear test last month, followed by its long-range rocket launch on Sunday that outsiders see as a banned test of ballistic missile technology. South Korea responded Thursday by beginning work to suspend operations at the factory park, one of its harshest possible punishment options. “I was told not to bring anything but personal goods, so I’ve got nothing but my clothes to take back,” a manager at a South Korean apparel company at the complex. Chang Beom Kang, who has been running an apparel company in Kaesong since 2009, said from South Korea that his company has about 920 North Korean workers and seven South Korean managers at Kaesong. He said one of his workers, who entered Kaesong earlier Thursday, was about to cross the border to return to South Korea with thousands of women’s clothes produced at the factory. But at the last minute the employee had to drive back to the factory to unload the clothes because of North Korea’s announcement that it would freeze all South Korean assets there. The park also allowed people from both Koreas to interact with each other and glimpse into lives on the other side of the border. Some South Korean snacks have become popular among North Korean workers.