South will pull Kaesong workers out

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South will pull Kaesong workers out

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A panoramic view of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which will be virtually shut down after the South Korean government announced yesterday that all South Korean workers will be pulled out. [NEWSIS]

The government said it will pull out all remaining South Korean workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex, effectively shutting down the eight-year-old joint-venture park, the last functioning remnant of the Sunshine Policy engagement of North Korea.

Its decision came after Pyongyang rebuffed a demand and abrupt ultimatum by Seoul for dialogue to reopen the complex, where work stopped two and a half weeks ago when Pyongyang pulled out its 53,448 workers.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae convened a press conference yesterday and announced the decision made at a ministerial-level meeting with President Park Geun-hye and other officials in reaction to North Korea’s rejection of dialogue.

“So far, the government repeatedly expressed our intention to resolve the matter of Kaesong through dialogue,” Ryoo said. “Still, the North didn’t accept our proposal for talks and maintained measures of suspending operations and banned the visit of our businessmen to the complex.

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“As a result, our companies, which believed in the inter-Korean declarations and the promise of North Korea [regarding the complex] and invested in the complex, are suffering serious losses,” he continued. “Particularly, we can’t tolerate the fact that North Korea refused the proposal for a formal talk while not allowing any humanitarian measures such as offering materials, food and medical assistance for our people [in the complex].

“We made the inevitable decision to pull all of our workers from the complex for their safety,” he said.

A senior Ministry of Unification official told reporters that the withdrawal is compulsory.

Previously, a group of Southern businessmen said they won’t leave the complex no matter what the government says.

“One of the government’s duties is to ensure their safety,” the ministry official said. “We have already started negotiations regarding the withdrawal with North Korea. When it comes to facilities or infrastructure in the complex and compensation for the losses of the companies, we will discuss that later.”

The official said the remaining 175 South Korean workers will be evacuated “as soon as possible.”

North Korea’s National Defense Commission, its top decision-making body chaired by leader Kim Jong-un, yesterday released a statement calling the South’s request for talks “a ridiculing” of the regime.

“It would only prompt ultimate destruction if the culprits who drove inter-Korean relations into a phase of war keep making a despicable suggestion for working-level talks and threatening to take a ‘grave measure’ as an ultimatum,” the statement read. “If the South Korean puppet group continues to worsen the situation, we could take the ultimate, decisive grave measure first.”

The Unification Ministry proposed a working-level meeting Thursday to resume operations at the complex and demanded Pyongyang answer by yesterday morning.

The ministry warned if Pyongyang didn’t respond, the South Korean government would take “a grave measure.”

The commission released its statement at 2:30 p.m. In the statement, the commission criticized a conservative South Korean civic group for sending across the border anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets yesterday and the ongoing Seoul-Washington joint military drills. They blamed both for turning down the offer of talks.

In response, President Park convened a meeting with ministers and high-ranking government officials to seek a solution, including head of the National Security Council Huh Tae-yeol, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and others. “The best solution would be normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but I’m not sure if we should keep waiting for it,” Park said at the meeting. “The sacrifice of the people is too much.”

Since Pyongyang imposed a ban on all materials or people going into the complex on April 3 and then pulled out its workers on April 8, the South Korean government and businessmen have continued to ask for resumption of operations or, at least, permission to send materials, food and medicines to the 175 South Korean workers inside. The representatives of the 123 South Korean companies that work in Kaesong are trying to protect their operations.

Radio Pyongyang said in a commentary that “there would be no DPRK-U.S. or North-South talks as long as the Southern puppet groups continue their war practices for northward invasion and the hostile policy of the United States against the DPRK.”


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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