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. Other managers stuffed their cars full of finished goods before heading south across the Demilitarized Zone that divides the nations.
Amid a stream of increasingly threatening words and actions, North Korea announced Monday that it was suspending operations and recalling 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’ worth of goods last year.
It was the first time that production has been suspended at the complex, which for nearly a decade 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 TV or radio, the manager said they did nothing but “think about the South.”
“I feel hungry and cold here,” he said.
Gas and oil is usually sent from the South to heat and power the factories, but North Korea has closed the border to all people 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 drive across the border Wednesday.
The pull-out is part of a torrent of provocations and threats North Korea 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.