SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea on Thursday warned of an unspecified "grave measure" if North Korea rejects a call for talks on a jointly run factory park that has been closed for nearly a month.
In a televised briefing with reporters, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk refused to describe what Seoul would do if Pyongyang doesn't respond by a deadline Friday to a demand for formal working-level talks on the industrial complex just over the heavily armed border in the North Korean town of Kaesong.
But Seoul may be signaling it will pull out its remaining workers from the factory across the border in Kaesong. That could lead to the end of a complex considered the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
As animosity rose between the Koreas early this month, North Korea barred South Koreans from crossing the border and entering the factory. It later suspended operations and withdrew the 53,000 North Korean workers who manned assembly lines there. Pyongyang hasn't forced South Koreans to leave and about 175 are still there.
The factory has operated with South Korean know-how and technology and cheap labor from North Korea since 2004. It is a hold-over from an era that saw the Koreas try to cooperate through various projects.
For several weeks, until recently, North Korea issued a steady stream of criticism and threats aimed at Seoul and Washington, expressing anger over ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills that the North calls invasion preparations and U.N. sanctions over its February nuclear test. Pyongyang has recently eased its rhetoric, but tensions between the rivals are still high.
As Some South Korean businesses have been quietly mulling giving up on Kaesong altogether.
"Our people are suffering serious difficulties due to the shortage of food and medicines and our companies are suffering big damages and pains," Kim said.
To resolve deadlocked operations at Kaesong, Kim said North Korea should first allow some South Koreans to cross the border to hand over food and medicine to the remaining managers at Kaesong.
South Korea on Wednesday proposed talks between the head of a South Korean management office at Kaesong and the North's General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone, but the North rebuffed the offer, Kim said.
"It's very regrettable for North Korea to reject [taking] the minimum humanitarian measures for our workers at the Kaesong industrial complex," he said.