South Korea has withdrawn its last workers from Kaesong, once a joint zone inside reclusive North Korea. The exit dashes a rare bid to create inter-Korean cooperation and caps virtually the last communications channel.
The last seven South Korean workers departed the special economic zone of Kaesong on Friday. They had reportedly been handling back pay demands from North Korean for its workers.
The complex was opened in 2004, just north of the two Korea's fortified border, and was seen in the South as an experiment toward forming a future unified Korea.
Seoul's Unification Ministry said two vehicles carrying an undisclosed amount of wages for the North Korean workers crossed the border on Friday as the seven South Koreans exited.
Pyongyang had cited overdue wages and corporate tax claims estimated at around 61 million euros ($80 million). It pulled out its 53,000-strong workforce in early April while demanding the end of UN sanctions and halts to South Korea-US joint military exercises.
Remnant of 'sunshine' policy
Seoul decided last week to abandon the complex after Pyongyang rejected calls for negotiations to re-open Kaesong, which was born out of the "Sunshine Policy" of former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung in the 1990s.
Pyongyang on Friday blamed the South for the failure of the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ).
"All facts go to prove that the (South Korean) puppet forces are working hard to turn the sacred KIZ into a theater of confrontation and source of a war against the North, not a zone for reconciliation and unity," commented North's official news agency KCNA.
South Korean firms with plants at the site last week expressed shock at the abrupt withdrawal.
"I was so full of dreams and hopes seven years ago," said Park Yun-Kyu, the head of a Seoul clothing company.
Friday's departure also cuts one of the only official lines of communication between the Koreas. Seoul had used phone lines connected to a South Korean-run management office at Kaesong to exchange messages with North Korea.
Tensions had soared in recent months after the UN imposed further sanctions for North Korean nuclear testing in February.
Last month, North Korea suspended operations at Kaesong, barring entry to South Korean factory managers and trucks, and withdrew more than 53,000 North Koreans who had been working for 123 South Korean firms within the special economic zone.
The two Koreas are still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an internationally overseen cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
ipj/hc (dpa, AP, AFP)