Most South Koreans to leave North Korean factory

South Korea to withdraw most of its remaining citizens from jointly run complex in North Korea

Associated Press
Most South Koreans to leave North Korean factory
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Medias wait for South Koreans returning home from North Korea's Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, that separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Monday, April 29, 2013. North Korea delayed the departure of the last South Korean personnel from a joint industrial complex on Monday by not immediately giving them permission to return home across the two countries' border, South Korean officials said. South Korea began withdrawing its remaining nationals from Kaesong on Saturday, citing a shortage of food and medicine for them, after North Korea rejected an offer to hold talks on the complex. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

PAJU, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea on Monday approved the withdrawal of most of the remaining South Korean personnel at a jointly run industrial park in the North, South Korean officials said, with a final seven set to stay behind to negotiate unpaid wages for North Korean workers.

Officials in Seoul said 43 South Koreans would leave as soon as officials arranged vehicles to carry them across the border, but it wasn't immediately known when the wage negotiations would take place and the remaining seven South Koreans would return home.

The departure of the last South Koreans would empty out the complex, located just across the border in the North Korean town of Kaesong, for the first time since it opened in 2004 and possibly lead to the permanent closure of the last symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

Amid high tensions, North Korea suspended operations at Kaesong in early April, withdrawing all of its 53,000 workers and barring South Korean factory managers and trucks with supplies from entering the complex. It was the most significant action taken by North Korea as it sought to show its anger over South Korean-U.S. military drills and U.N. sanctions imposed over Pyongyang's February nuclear test, its third.

North Korea's accompanying torrent of warlike rhetoric included threats to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S., although it has recently shown some tentative signs of willingness to talk.

South Korea began withdrawing its remaining nationals from Kaesong on Saturday, citing a shortage of food and medicine for them, after North Korea rejected an offer to hold talks on the complex.

Kaesong, which combines South Korean knowhow and technology with cheap North Korean labor, is the last remaining cooperation project between the Koreas. The Korean Peninsula officially remains at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Other collaborative programs, including tours from South Korea to a scenic North Korean mountain, have been stalled in recent years because of confrontation between the rival Koreas.

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Kim reported from Seoul.

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