By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, April 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry said Monday it is closely watching North Korea's moves near a suspended joint industrial zone amid rising concern the North many increase its military presence in the border area.
Angered by joint South Korea-U.S. military drills, Pyongyang earlier this month pulled its workers out of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and banned South Koreans from crossing the border to bring food and supplies. After Pyongyang rejected Seoul's offer of talks to resolve the weeks-long stalemate, the South Korean government on Friday told its workers to pull out from the factory park.
The final group of South Koreans working in the complex is expected to leave later in the day, vacating the special economic zone where 123 South Korean-run factories were operated by roughly 800 South Koreans and more than 53,000 North Korean workers.
Amid rising concerns over a prolonged deadlock over the last symbol of inter-Korean relations, remarks by a North Korean official in charge of the factory have fueled speculation that the communist nation is considering bringing its troops back to the border city in a bid to further escalate tensions.
On Saturday, a spokesman for industrial zone quoted by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said the closure of the industrial zone would "create more favorable conditions for the great war" by putting "Seoul at closer distance and pave a wide road for southward advance."
The spokesman for Seoul's defense ministry said South Korean and U.S. troops are closely watching the Kaesong complex to detect any signs of special military movement.
If the deadlock prolongs, Shin Bum-chul, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said in an interview that there is a possibility the North could move some of its personnel and equipment near the zone as means to pressure Seoul.
Military officials say the industrial zone has strategic importance as it lies just 58 kilometers north of the South Korean capital Seoul with a population of 10 million with direct road and rail access to the South. It is located 137 kilometers south of the North's showy capital Pyongyang.
Ahead of the joint park's establishment in 2004, the North relocated two heavily armed army divisions controlling its main tank and artillery brigade stationed in Kaesong and the truce village of Panmunjom northward.
Others said it would be too risky for the North to relocate its troops as it would mean a complete shutdown of the zone. Pyongyang has said the South will be to blame if the joint factory park is shut down.
"The North has escalated tensions in the past month seeking a breakthrough in inter-Korean tensions, and it would be hard to make such an extreme decision," a retired general, who engaged in past negotiations for the industrial zone, said on the condition of anonymity. "Although North Korea could consider troop realignment as leverage to win concessions from the South, it would be difficult to do so in one or two years."
Kaesong was born out the "Sunshine Policy" of inter-Korean conciliation initiated in the late 1990s by late President Kim Dae-Jung which led to a historic summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000.
- Future of Kaesong industrial complex in doubt over escalating tensions
- N. Korea in tug of war over dialogue terms with S. Korea, U.S.
- Park, Obama face crucial test on chemistry amid N.K. headache
- (News Focus) N. Korea's hacking capabilities advance
- N. Korea's hacking capabilities advance
- (News Focus) N. Korea ratchets up tension by restricting Kaesong operations
- N. Korea cautious in choosing timing for any attack: U.S. experts
- N. Korea fueling tensions to seek diplomatic solution: sources
- N. Korea's state-sponsored hackers emerge as global threat
- Three years after naval vessel sinking, N. Korea poses greater security threat
- N.K. leader's front-line inspections fuel military clash concerns
- N. Korea threatens war in defiance of U.N. resolution
- 'Strongest sanctions' on NK, output of artful U.N. diplomacy
- China holds key to implementing U.N. sanctions against N. Korea
- N. Korea again resorts to brinkmanship to put pressure on U.S.
- U.S. aim of denuclearizing N. Korea in question
- Park vows 'trust-building' with N. Korea despite nuke brink
- Park faces key tasks on relations with N. Korea, regional powers
- All eyes on China for tougher sanctions against nuclear N. Korea
- Nuke test stirs debate on how to handle N. Korea's WMD program
- Obama's N. Korea policy put to crucial test again
- (NK N-test) N. Korea's nuke test jeopardizing inter-Korean relations
- Nuke test aims to solidify Kim's control, take upper hand in int'l arena
- N. Korea's nuke test presents major security challenge for Park, Obama
- N. Korea's nuke test feared to foil Park's overture of engagement: experts
- N. Korea's nuclear tension overshadows new gov't in Seoul
- N. Korea ramps up threat of another nuclear test
- U.N. action on N. Korea late yet meaningful: official
- In second term, Obama faces tough issues with Seoul
- Inter-Korean relations effectively severed under Lee administration