Seoul: Roughly three quarters of the 175 South Koreans still at a shuttered factory park in North Korea are scheduled to return on Saturday after Seoul decided to withdraw them over Pyongyang's rejection of its demand for talks. JPN/Agencies
The industrial complex in the border city of Kaesong bustled with more than 53,000 North Korean workers and 800 South Korean managers before Pyongyang pulled its entire work force out and banned South Koreans from entering it earlier this month.
The park, the biggest employer in Kaesong with a population of 200,000 according to North Korean officials, is the most significant casualty in the recent deterioration of ties between the Koreas. Operating with South Korean know-how and technology and with cheap labor from North Korea since 2004, it has weathered past cycles of hostility between the rivals, including two attacks blamed on North Korea in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.
On Thursday, Seoul issued a Friday deadline for North Korea to respond to its call for talks because it was worried about its workers not having access to food and medicine. North Korea hasn't allowed South Korea to send supplies to its managers in Kaesong since the ban.
Just hours after Pyongyang dismissed Seoul's demand for talks as "deceptive," Ryoo Kihl-jae, South Korea's top official on relations with North Korea, said pn Friday in a televised statement his government decided to pull all the remaining South Koreans in Kaesong.
"We've made the inevitable decision to bring back all the remaining personnel in Kaesong for the protection of our people as their difficulties continue to grow," Unification Minister Ryoo said, urging the North to protect the property of South Korean companies at Kaesong and ensure the safe return of South Koreans home.
His ministry said later on Friday in a text message that 127 of the remaining South Koreans in Kaesong would return on Saturday. The remaining workers are expected to leave Kaesong on Sunday.
In Friday's statement, a spokesman for the North's powerful National Defense Commission promised the workers' safety if they withdrew, while lashing out at Seoul over ongoing US-South Korean military drills and the spreading of anti-North Korea leaflets at the border as proof of Seoul's insincerity.
"If they are truly worried about the lives of South Korean personnel in the (complex), they may withdraw all of them to the south side where there are stockpiles of food and raw materials and sound medical conditions," said the statement carried by official media. "If the South's puppet group looks away from reality and pursues the worsening of the situation, we will be compelled to first take final and decisive grave measures," it said.
Impoverished North Korea has objected to views in South Korea that the Kaesong park is a source of badly needed hard currency. South Korean companies paid salaries to North Korean workers averaging USD 127 a month, according to South Korea's government. That is less than one-sixteenth of the average salary of South Korean manufacturer workers.
Seoul: Roughly three quarters of the 175 South Koreans still at a shuttered factory park in North Korea are scheduled to return on Saturday after Seoul decided to withdraw them over Pyongyang's rejection of its demand for talks.