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Last S. Korean workers leave joint Kaesong industrial complex

South Korea is withdrawing the last of its workers from the North Korean industrial park on Monday, leaving the symbolic joint venture empty.

Businesses leave kaesongEnlarge
South Korean cars carrying products made in inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, arrive at a gate of the inter-Korean transit office in the border city of Paju on April 27, 2013. Dozens of South Korean workers returned from a jointly run factory park in North Korea on 27 April as part of an evacuation of the flagship project following months of military tensions. (KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The last of South Korea's workers are leaving the Kaesong industrial park on Monday, abandoning the emblematic North-South joint venture for the first time since it opened a decade ago.

Seoul required the last of its remaining workers to leave the factory after North Korea rejected formal talks to resolve the standoff, which has closed much of the complex since April 9.

Some 800 South Koreans were working in the complex when North Korea put a barricade into place, blocking South Korean business owners from accessing their goods.

It's the latest sign of increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula that have put the region and Washington on alert.

"The decisions of both sides to remove their citizens from the Kaesong industrial complex is truly unprecedented," says GlobalPost's senior correspondent covering Korea, Geoffrey Cain.

Still, Cain explains, many analysts in Seoul say they're uncertain over whether the exodus means operations will cease indefinitely. During a similar tit-for-tat between the North and South in 2009, Kaesong operations were similarly suspended three times — but neither side withdrew completely, and operations later resumed without much of a problem.

This time around, most of the workforce has left but the remaining business owners who chose to stay are now being asked to leave too.

On Saturday, 125 workers packed up their goods and drove out of the complex and and the remaining 50 managers were expected to cross the border back into South Korea by the end of the day.

Later on Monday, media reported that seven of the 50 were held back by the North, which cited last-minute checks on taxes and wages. South Korea officials said the remaining seven were not at risk. 

"As the North has said in their statements about ensuring the safety of the people who will be returning, we do not consider them at risk but we will be closely watching until all of them are back," said a South Korean official, according to Reuters.

"The two sides are currently in the process of ironing out some details, with most of the outstanding issues having been worked out," a spokesman at South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

The South Korean government has pledged assistance to those business owners who were forced to freeze production at Kaesong.

The task force would "assess damages suffered by the firms with factories at Kaesong and... devise comprehensive and practical supportive measures," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

Senior Correspondent Geoffrey Cain contributed analysis from Seoul. Follow him on Twitter @geoffrey_cain.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/south-korea/130429/last-s-korean-workers-leave-joint-kaesong-indu