North Korea suspends last major project with South Korea
North Korea's decision to pull its workers from Kaesong industrial park coincides with speculation that it could carry out a missile test.
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Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor. He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog. He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.
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Pyongyang announced it is withdrawing its workers from the Kaesong industrial complex, the joint North-South Korean manufacturing venture that has become something of a bellwether of North Korea's intentions amid its increased belligerent threats.
Reuters reports that the decision by the North to suspend its last major symbol of cooperation with the South came down Monday, amid growing concerns that Pyongyang is preparing some sort of provocation, possibly a missile or nuclear test.
"[The North] will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its (continued) existence or close it," KCNA quoted Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, as saying.
KCNA said leaders in South Korea, a major U.S. ally, were "running the whole gamut of intrigues to find a pretext for igniting a war against (North Korea) after reducing the Kaesong Industrial zone to a theatre of confrontation".
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Reuters notes that the suspension follows North Korea's move last week to bar new arrivals from South Korea from entering Kaesong, although it did not expel Southerners already there. However, many South Koreans left the site and returned home as food and supplies there ran out.
The Kaesong complex is seen as a critical lifeline for the North. Amid the waxing Kaesong shutdown last week, The Christian Science Monitor reported that the site employs some 53,000 North Koreans in factories manufacturing goods for South Korean companies, whose managers are allowed into the site. The complex produced $470 million in good last year and drew an estimates $80 million for North Korea – a significant influx of money for a regime beset by UN-backed sanctions and with almost no legitimate sources of income other than its limited trade with China.