South Korea says it is preparing to withdraw its remaining workers from the industrial complex it operates with North Korea, a move that would break the final peaceful link between the bitter Korean peninsula rivals.
A spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry said the 50 workers remaining at the Kaesong complex were to return home Monday morning, although the North has not granted its approval. Seoul announced Friday that it was removing the last remaining workers from Kaesong after Pyongyang rejected an offer to hold talks on restarting the complex.
More than 100 South Korean-owned factories had employed 53,000 North Korean workers at Kaesong since 2004. But the North withdrew its workers earlier this month, part of its angry reaction to expanded United Nations sanctions following its nuclear test in February.
With all South Korean workers leaving Kaesong, the fate of the complex, located about 10 kilometers across the North Korean border, is unclear. South Korean President Park Geun-hye said her government will do all it can to help the industries forced to abandon its operations in Kaesong.
"Our government now will have to do its best to provide substantial support to those related South Korean companies and workers so that they do not lose hope," said Park. "People around the world saw our workers trying to bring back even one more item from the Kaesong Industrial Complex by returning with fully loaded vehicles. After seeing the mutual agreement instantly go down the drain, who will now be willing to invest in North Korea?"
The withdrawal will be the first time Kaesong will be empty since its opening in 2004. The complex was a key source of hard currency for the North's troubled economy.