SEOUL — South Korea's government says the last seven of its citizens remaining at the Kaesong joint venture complex in North Korea are there voluntarily to handle unresolved issues.
Officials in Seoul say the five members of the management committee and two telecommunications workers decided to stay at Kaesong after 43 other South Koreans returned home.
A Unification Ministry spokesperson says any characterization that the South Koreans are staying in the North against their will is not accurate.
The spokesperson says Seoul is “not against” them remaining in North Korea for a short time to handle Pyongyang's claims concerning unpaid wages, corporate taxes and communications service charges.
Fifty-three thousand North Koreans factory workers left the zone on April 9. At the time, the North accused the South of insulting its “supreme dignity.”
Last week, South Korea urged all of its citizens, mainly managers of the small and medium-sized textile enterprises, to return home as North Korea was prohibiting the entry of food and other supplies for the idled complex.
South Korea's Minister of Unification, who is in charge of relations with the North in lieu of diplomatic relations, expressed hope that Pyongyang will change its mind and accept the offer of dialogue from Seoul.
But Ryoo Kihl-jae says the act of North Korea pulling out its workers will be long remembered. And even if operations can again be normalized, Pyongyang “will have to put a lot of effort into restoring the trust ruined by the current situation.”
The North Korean newspaper Minju Joson ran a commentary on Tuesday saying Pyongyang does not care if the South pulls its personnel out of the zone. And should there be a total collapse of the industrial complex, the North “will never pardon” the South.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell told reporters in Seoul the Kaesong shutdown is concerning and should be seen as the latest in a series of disconcerting actions by Pyongyang.
"I don't think that what's taken place with Kaesong marks a watershed in the way that the shelling of the islands, the sinking of the Cheonan [warship] did in the past. However, the accumulation of basically serial provocations has, I think, caused a quiet re-thinking in a variety of capitals about just how difficult it is to construct any engagement strategy with North Korea that could bear fruit,” said Campbell.
Campbell - speaking at the annual Asan Plenum - called for Washington, Seoul and other capitals to “continue to urge China to pressure North Korea” to change its behavior.
North Korea blames South Korea and the United States for the rising tension on the peninsula, contending the allies are poised to invade.
In recent months, the North conducted a provocative space launch and a nuclear test, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It also claimed it had voided the 1953 armistice, that it was again in a state of war with the South and that it would launch a preemptive nuclear strike against U.S. bases.