North Korea says South Korea's decision to suspend operations at a jointly-run industrial complex amounts to "a declaration of war."
The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea issued the warning in a statement released Thursday, its first response to Seoul's decision Wednesday to shutdown operations at the Kaesong industrial park, located 10-kilometers across the border. South Korean workers began hauling equipment out of Kaesong early Thursday, well before Pyongyang's statement.
The North ordered all South Korean nationals to leave the complex, said it was seizing all materials left behind and declared it a military zone. It also said it was cutting off all military communications with Seoul, including the hotline at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
"Our military is completely prepared to cope with any possible situations in Kaesong Industrial Complex at this time, putting a priority on people's lives and safety," said South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun.
South Korea says 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.
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, employing 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 was shut down once before, in 2013, when Pyongyang withdrew all of its workers and closed the complex for five months during a period of heightened cross-border tensions.
South Koreans react
"As businessmen in Kaesong would have invested a lot, I hope that the government cares and fights on their behalf so they won't sustain too many losses," said Seoul resident Lim Ok-sook. "Also, when we watch the news South Korea always considers [North Korea] and they do whatever they want anyway. So I hope that this will be an opportunity for South Korea to show [North Korea] a strong will."
"North Korea has caused many problems, but the South Korean government tried to maintain [its policy] silently, said Chris Oh, another Seoul resident. "I personally agree with this action [to halt the operation of joint industrial park]. It should be a chance for North Korea to realize [its wrongdoings]."
Kim Soo-hee, South Korean Nurse, said the move surprised her.
"We jokingly said Kaesong might be shut down, but I was surprised to see it really happening," she said. "In my personal opinion, I feel sorry for the North Koreans because they are way more worried than we are."