North Korea on Wednesday closed the border to South Korean workers and vehicles at the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex. The move came just four days after Pyongyang threatened to close down the industrial park, accusing the South Korean media of "seriously insulting" it with reports that it needs the money too badly to contemplate the move.
But South Korean staff at the industrial complex were able to return to the South.
The entry ban caused production bottlenecks for the 123 South Korean manufacturers in the Kaesong complex, that is the last remaining showcase of inter-Korean cooperation.
South Korean trucks turn around at a gate in Paju, Gyeonggi Province after being barred from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex on Wednesday. /Newsis
South Korea urged North Korea to re-open access to the industrial park.
"We deeply regret the entry ban and urge [North Korea] to normalize the situation immediately," a Unification Ministry spokesman said. "The move not only has a negative impact on inter-Korean relations but will lead to criticism from the international community and further isolation."
Some 815 South Koreans still work in the complex, and the regime has apparently not troubled them at work nor threatened them in any way. But experts warn that they could be held hostage.
In March 2009, a staffer with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan, which handled inter-Korean business projects, was detained in the North for no apparent reason.
Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok hinted that Seoul could pull the remaining workers out, saying it places the top priority on the safety of its citizens as it deals with the situation.
Defense Ministry Kim Kwan-jin echoed the pledge and told lawmakers that the military is ready to rescue the South Koreans workers should they be held hostage. In an extraordinary security meeting, Kim said, "The top priority is the safety of our citizens, and we are considering all options, including military ones."
After the North sank the Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010, the South Korean and U.S. militaries worked out a plan to rescue hostages from the industrial park by deploying South Korean special forces backed by U.S. Apache attack helicopters and South Korean fighter jets.