North Korea orders military takeover of Kaesong factory park
North Korea has ordered a military takeover of a factory park that was the last major symbol of co-operation with South Korea, saying Seoul's suspension of operations at the jointly run facility was a "dangerous declaration of war".
Pyongyang said it is 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 is shutting down two crucial cross-border communication hotlines.
An immediate worry in Seoul was whether all South Korean workers would be allowed to leave; some analysts speculated that Pyongyang would hold on to some to get all the wages owed to North Korean workers.
Some South Korean workers left Kaesong before the North's announcement, and a handful of others were seen leaving afterwards, but South Korean officials were not certain whether all its nationals had departed by Pyongyang's 5.30pm (Seoul time) expulsion deadline, or what would become of anyone who failed to do so.
The South's unification ministry, which is responsible for ties with the North, said about 130 South Koreans had planned to enter Kaesong on Thursday to begin shutdown work, and that nearly 70 South Koreans who had been staying there would be leaving.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing a military official, reported that South Korea bolstered its military readiness and strength along the western portion of the border in the event of a North Korean provocation.
The North's moves, announced by the North's committee for the peaceful reunification of Korea, significantly raised the stakes in a standoff that began with North Korea's nuclear test last month, followed by a long-range rocket launch on Sunday that outsiders see as a banned test of ballistic missile technology. South Korea responded on Thursday by beginning work to suspend operations at the factory park, one of its harshest possible punishment options.
North Korea called the South's shutdown a "dangerous declaration of war" and a "declaration of an end to the last lifeline of the North-South relations". Such over-the-top rhetoric is typical of the North's propaganda, but the country appeared to be backing up its language with its strong response.
North Korea, in its statement, also issued crude insults against South Korea's president Park Geun-hye, saying she masterminded the shutdown and calling her a "confrontational wicked woman" who lives upon "the groin of her American boss". Such sexist language is also typical of North Korean propaganda.
North Korea has previously cut off cross-border communication channels in times of tension with South Korea, but they were later restored after animosities eased.
Seoul said its decision on Kaesong was an effort to stop Pyongyang from using hard currency from the park to develop its nuclear and missile programmes.