PAJU, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals.
It is the latest in an escalating standoff over North Korea's recent rocket launch that Seoul, Washington and their allies view as a banned test of missile technology. The North says its actions on the Kaesong complex were a response to Seoul's earlier decision to suspend operations as punishment for the launch.
On Thursday night, the 280 South Korean workers who had been at the park crossed the border into South Korea, several hours after a deadline set by the North passed. Their departure ended concerns that some might be held hostage and lowered the chances that the standoff might lead to violence or miscalculations.
But they weren't allowed to bring back any finished products or equipment because the North announced that it was freezing all South Korean assets there.
The North also said it was closing an inter-Korean highway linking to Kaesong and shutting down two cross-border communication hotlines.
"I was told not to bring anything but personal goods, so I've got nothing but my clothes to take back," said a manager at a South Korean apparel company at the complex, who declined to give his name, before he crossed to the South.
Chang Beom Kang, who has run an apparel company in Kaesong since 2009, said from South Korea that his company has about 920 North Korean workers — who didn't show up Thursday — and seven South Korean managers at Kaesong.
He said one of his workers, who entered Kaesong earlier Thursday, was about to cross the border to return to South Korea with thousands of pieces of women's clothing produced at the factory. But at the last minute the employee had to drive back to the factory to unload the clothes because of the North's freeze.
"I'm devastated now," Kang said by phone, saying he's worried about losing credibility with clients because of the crisis.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said in a statement Friday that it had stopped power transmissions to the factory park. Ministry officials said the suspension subsequently led to a halt of water supplies to Kaesong.
The South Korean government said today that it will extend loans and defer taxes and utility bills for the companies forced out of Kaesong. Many of the companies now have to find new jobs for their employees who normally work in Kaesong and build new production lines so they can keep supplying their buyers.
The current standoff flared after North Korea carried out a nuclear test last month, followed by the long-range rocket launch on Sunday that came after Seoul had warned of serious consequences.