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(3rd LD) N. Korea expels all S. Koreans from Kaesong complex, freezes assets

2016/02/11 22:14

(ATTN: REWRITES lead; ADDS more info throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korea ordered all South Koreans on Thursday to immediately leave a joint industrial park in the North and froze all South Korean assets there in retaliation for Seoul's suspension of the complex.

The North's move to expel South Koreans from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North's border city came as Seoul on Wednesday announced plans to shut down the factory zone in response to the North's latest nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

The South Korean government said late Thursday that all of its nationals have returned home safely. A total of 124 South Korean firms were running factories at the zone, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

North Korea "will completely freeze all assets including equipment, materials and products" of the South Korean firms, according to a statement issued by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

The North said it has closed the complex and designated it a military zone, adding that two inter-Korean communication hotlines will be also cut off.

South Korea has unveiled one of the strongest non-military measures to punish North Korea for its reckless provocations -- the complete shutdown of the industrial complex.

Seoul's move is aimed at cutting off North Korea's source of hard currency to prevent South Korean money from being funneled into the North's nuclear and missile development.

On Sunday, the North launched a long-range rocket carrying a satellite, which Seoul and Washington view as a cover for a banned test of intercontinental ballistic technology. The North conducted its fourth nuke test on Jan. 6.

South Korea "will experience what disastrous and painful consequences will be entailed by its actions," the North's committee said.

North Korea labeled Seoul's move as a "provocative measure that is a declaration of an end to the last lifeline of South and North Korea."

   "It is a dangerous declaration of a war driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a war," the North said.

The complex opened in 2004 as a result of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. It had served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped North, while South Korea benefited from cheap but skilled North Korean labor. More than 54,000 North Korean workers had been employed to produce labor-intensive goods, such as clothes and utensils.

The North's abrupt announcement came as Seoul began earlier in the day pulling its nationals from the industrial park, some 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul.

South Korea's military said it will further step up its vigilance against North Korea near the inter-Korean border as the North has designated the industrial park a military-control zone.

In April 2013, the North shut down the complex for about four months, citing what it called heightened tensions sparked by a military drill between Seoul and Washington. In February of that year, the North conducted its third nuclear test.

The two Koreas agreed not to shut it down again "under any circumstances" when they decided to reopen it.