SEOUL - South Korea said on Friday it will pull out all remaining workers from the Kaesong industrial zone in North Korea after Pyongyang rejected a call for formal talks to resolve a standoff that led to a suspension of operations at the complex.
"Because our nationals remaining in the Kaesong industrial zone are experiencing greater difficulties due to the North's unjust actions, the government has come to the unavoidable decision to bring back all remaining personnel in order to protect their safety," said Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae.
About 170 South Koreans were left in Kaesong, which is just on the North Korean side of the border with the South.
The industrial zone opened in 2004 as part of a so-called sunshine policy of engagement and optimism between the two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 war conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.
The North withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex this month amid spiraling tension between the two Koreas. The North has prevented South Korean workers and supplies from getting in to the zone since April 3.
The North's National Defense Commission, its supreme leadership body, repeated that what it saw as the reckless behavior of the South had thrown into question the safety of the zone's operation and had forced it to stop access there.
"If the South's puppet regime turns a blind eye to reality and continues to pursue a worsening of the situation, we will be forced to take a final and decisive important measure," a spokesman for the commission was quoted as saying.
The zone was a lucrative source of cash for the impoverished North, providing it with almost $90 million a year. South Korean manufacturers have been paying about $130 a month to North Korea for each of the workers they employed.
North Korea stepped up defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions in December when it launched a rocket that it said had put a scientific satellite into orbit. Critics said the launch was aimed at developing technology to deliver a nuclear warhead mounted on a long-range missile.
The North followed that in February with its third test of a nuclear weapon. That brought new U.N. sanctions which in turn led to a dramatic intensification of North Korea's threats of nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States.