The North Korean factory park that is the last vestige of cooperation with the South moved closer to paralysis yesterday as nearly 100 South Korean workers went home across a border that Pyongyang has closed in the return direction.
South Korean workers who left the Kaesong industrial complex just north of the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone said their companies were running out of raw materials that ordinarily would be trucked in from the South.
The South Korean Unification Ministry said one of the more than 120 companies operating at the complex shut down yesterday, the fourth to do so since North Korea barred people and cargo from entering on Wednesday.
At Kaesong, hundreds of South Korean managers have worked with thousands of North Korean workers to produce a variety of products for the past decade. There was a similar disruption in 2009 — also during US-South Korean military exercises — but that was brief, and manufacturers fear this border shutdown could last longer.
The Unification Ministry said that 92 South Koreans headed home yesterday. One manager interviewed as he left, Han Nam-il, said he saw North Korean security officials “fully armed” before he crossed the border.
Another man, Kim Jin-ho, said his factory had only enough raw materials to last for three or four days, as he spoke from the seat of his truck full of cardboard boxes.
North Korea is not forcing South Koreans to leave, so the companies are running out of raw material rather than managers. Sung Hyun-sang, head of an apparel manufacturer that employs 1,400 North Korean workers, said on Friday that his factory will be “in real trouble” if supplies are not sent to his factory in Kaesong in a week or two.
In a sign of how unconcerned South Koreans based at Kaesong are about their own safety, the Unification Ministry said Seoul yesterday turned away some managers waiting at the border with hopes of getting back to work.
South Korea has drawn anger from the North by discussing the possibility of a potential hostage situation involving the South Koreans still working at the complex.