North Korea Removes Workers From Jointly Run Factory
The North Koreans are continuing their efforts to cut all ties with the South:
SEOUL — North Korea said Monday it would pull out all workers from an industrial complex operated jointly with the South and examine the possibility of closing the facility permanently.
The North’s announcement, carried by its state-run news agency, halts the last form of inter-Korean cooperation at a time when Pyongyang has rattled the region by threatening a series of attacks and declaring a state of war with the South.
Though North Korea barred South Koreans from the Kaesong plant last Wednesday, few analysts suspected that it would shutter the plant — which generates foreign currency for the authoritarian government — even temporarily.
North Korea might eventually try to reopen the facility, located six miles north of the demilitarized border. But South Korean businesses could be wary about returning to an area Pyongyang has described as a “theater of confrontation” — one that operates on the political whims of the North’s 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un.
At least once before, in 2009, the North barricaded the plant for several days. But the decision Monday marked a new step and underscored unease as officials throughout Asia and in Washington try to predict — and prepare for — what North Korea will do next.
On Monday, South Korea’s unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, told parliament that he had “detected” signs of another upcoming underground nuclear blast at the North’s mountainous test site. But Ryoo, South Korea’s top official for North Korean policy, later backtracked from his comment, and a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said there is no indication that a nuclear test is imminent.
The contradicting assessments came after a major South Korean daily newspaper reported increased personnel and vehicles at the North’s test site. Security analysts cautioned that South Korean assessments of the North are unreliable, and said the North could also be trying to raise a misleading sense of crisis, knowing that foreign nations routinely study satellite images of the test site.
South Korean officials previously said the North might launch a midrange missile this week. The North has tried in recent years to build up both its nuclear and rocket programs, hoping ultimately to reliably produce miniature nuclear bombs that can be mounted on long-range missiles capable of flying halfway around the world. Though the North threatened last month to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, analysts say it doesn’t yet have the technical capability.
Still, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said Seoul is on particular guard for some kind of provocation in the next several days. Pyongyang has warned embassies that it cannot ensure their safety beyond Wednesday. And next Monday, North Korea celebrates the symbolically important birthday of deceased national founder Kim Il Sung, whom it calls the eternal president.
“Based on those facts, we think we have to closely monitor” that time period, the defense spokesman, Kim Min-seok, said.
There are two important dates approaching this month that may end up being the occasion for some kind of North Korean action. April 15th marks the 101st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and April 25th marks the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Army. To the extent Kim’s actions to date have been as much for internal political reasons as anything else, it wouldn’t be surprising to see something happen on either of these days.