North Korea withdraws workers from Kaesong industrial complex

The move comes after South Korea's defence ministry denies suggestions that a nuclear arms test was imminent in North Korea, contradicting earlier government comments.

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SEOUL // North Korea announced on Monday it would pull all its 53,000 workers out of the Kaesong joint industrial zone with South Korea and suspend all commercial operations in the complex, blaming "military warmongers".

North Korea "will withdraw all its employees from the zone", Kim Yang-gon, a senior ruling party official, said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

At the same time, Pyongyang "will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its existence or close it", Mr Kim added.

Mr Kim, who toured Kaesong Monday morning, said the action had been forced by "military warmongers" seeking to make Kaesong a point of confrontation amid escalating military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"How the situation will develop in the days ahead will entirely depend on the attitude of the South Korean authorities," he added.

The North has banned South Korean managers and personnel from crossing the border to enter the complex, 10 kilometres inside North Korea, since Wednesday.

So far 13 of the 123 South Korean firms operating there have been forced to halt production due to fuel and raw material shortages.

More than 300 South Koreans who were working in Kaesong when the ban was imposed have returned to the North, but more than 500 remain in the complex.

The move came after South Korea's defence ministry on Monday denied suggestions that a nuclear arms test was imminent in North Korea, saying reported movements around the reclusive country's atomic site were routine, contradicting earlier government comments.

Speculation had been mounting that North Korea will launch some sort of provocative action in coming days - an arms test or a missile launch - after weeks of bellicose threats against the South and the United States.

* Additional reporting by Reuters