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N. Korea urges foreigners in S. Korea to evacuate

10:17 AM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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BEIJING - North Korea warned foreigners to leave South Korea Tuesday, to avoid harm in the event of war, and closed the joint industrial zone that had remained the only functioning example of cross-border co-operation on the long-divided Korean peninsula.

The latest moves follow weeks of ever escalating threats from Pyongyang, which has reacted with increasing anger to United Nations sanctions punishing the North for its third nuclear test, conducted February 12. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits the South Korean capital Seoul later this week before visiting China, the North's only ally, at the weekend.

"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war," said the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, according to a report on the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). "We do not wish harm on foreigners in South Korea should there be a war," said the statement, advising foreigners to seek out shelter and examine evacuation plans.

The continued operation in recent weeks of the Kaesong industrial complex, located just inside North Korea and close to the DMZ, gave some analysts hope that North Korea's bluster was more rhetoric than a real threat. But last week North Korea halted access for South Korean workers to the zone. Tuesday, North Korean authorities carried out their promise made Monday to withdraw the 53,000 North Korean employees and temporarily suspend operations.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye told a Cabinet meeting Tuesday that North Korea's suspension of Kaesong was "very disappointing", and yet another example of the North's "vicious cycle" of creating crisis after crisis. "If North Korea breaches international regulations and promises like this, there will be no countries or companies that would make investments in North Korea," said Park, reported the Yonhap news agency.

The zone married cheap North Korean labor with South Korean manufacturing knowhow, and turnover in 2012 was almost $470 million. The North has responded angrily in recent days to South Korean media reports that Pyongyang relies on the zone as a rare source of foreign exchange for its highly isolated economy. South Korean "conservative forces" claim that North Korea "will never give up the zone as it benefits from the industrial zone, but it gets few economic benefits from the zone while the south side largely benefits from it," claimed KCNA Monday.

The heads of South Korean companies with operations in Kaesong said Tuesday they wanted to send a private delegation to North Korea to discuss resolving the complex's shutdown, reported Yonhap. Such a mission appears doomed, when the North now labels the zone a "theater of confrontation" which South Korean "warmongers" seek to turn into "a hotbed of war", according to KCNA.

In a typically bizarre and propaganda-heavy editorial Monday, the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said "the respected Marshal Kim Jong Un now leads our people in turning our country into a socialist fairyland, where the long dream of our people comes true and their happiness bloom." The North's people "are sure of their victory, their hearts boiling with the pledge to crush and revenge all their enemies. Following the new line of the Party, they are now carrying out the economic construction and nuclear arms build-up in parallel," said the paper.

This recent policy, simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic growth, is now being emphasized by North Korean state media. "'Once we have reliable nuclear deterrent, we'll be able to concentrate on the economy,' that's what many in North Korea believe," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Koomkin University in Seoul, and author of new book 'The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia'. "'We will have nukes and some breathing space to concentrate on light industry.' But it's a big question whether they'll succeed," he said.

Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY

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