South Korea has warned North Korea that Pyongyang acted "illegally" in freezing the assets of South Korean companies and personnel in the Kaesong industrial zone used by both nations.
South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said Friday that North Korea's decision to expel the South Koreans, issued Thursday, was "very regrettable," and added that Pyongyang will have to take full responsibility for any consequences.
On Thursday, North Korea ordered all South Koreans to leave the Kaesong complex, which is located 10 kilometers inside North Korea from the border with the South. Pyongyang said employees could only take personal belongings with them and ordered a "complete freeze" on the assets left behind. Pyongyang said the expulsions were a reaction to Seoul's decision a day earlier to shut down its operations at the park.
North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said South Korea's actions amounted to "a declaration of war."
South Korean workers began hauling equipment out of Kaesong early Thursday.
The North declared it a military zone, and said it was cutting off all military communications with Seoul, including the hotline at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
South Korea has said it is suspending operations at the Kaesong park to prevent Pyongyang from using the proceeds from the industrial park to fund the development of its nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea launched a long-range rocket Sunday and placed what it described as an "Earth observation satellite" into orbit, just weeks after carrying out its fourth nuclear test.
The Kaesong industrial park first opened in 2004 as part of the "sunshine" reconciliation policy reached between the authoritarian North and democratic South in the late 1990s, and is the last remaining symbol of cross-border cooperation. About 124 South Korean companies operate factories in Kaesong, and employ more than 53,000 North Korean workers, at an annual cost of $100 million, providing a source of badly needed hard currency for the impoverished North.
The park has been shut down once before, in 2013, when Pyongyang withdrew all of its workers and shut down the complex for five months during a period of heightened cross-border tensions.