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North Korea

No show of N Korean workers at Kaesong industrial complex

North Korean workers have failed to show up for work at the Kaesong joint industrial zone. The news comes one day after Pyongyang said it was suspending operations at the Seoul-funded complex.

"As of now, no North Korean workers have reported to work this morning," said a spokeswoman for the South's Unification Ministry on Tuesday.

On Monday, Pyongyang said it would pull out its 53,000 workers at the complex, which is the last remaining major economic link between the rivals. Established in 2004, it is the biggest employer in the North's third-biggest city and a crucial hard currency source for the impoverished nation.

After announcing the suspension of operations Monday, the North's senior ruling party official Kim Yang-Gon, who toured the zone Monday, said Pyongyang will "examine the issue of whether it will allow its existence or close it."

Pyongyang has blocked South Korean access to Kaesong since Wednesday, forcing 13 of the 123 South Korean firms operating in the complex to stop production, and forcing 300 South Koreans to leave.

However, some of the more than 400 South Korean managers still at Kaesong complex, which lies 10 kilometers (six miles) inside North Korea, said they have chosen to stay and watch over their equipment.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said the unilateral withdrawal "cannot be justified in any way" and that Pyongyang would be held responsible for all the consequences.

"The (South) Korean government will calmly but firmly handle North Korea's indiscreet action and we will do our best to secure the safety of our people and the protection of our property," the ministry said.

The US State Department said permanent closure of the complex would be "regrettable."

Mounting nuclear tension

Outside of the Kaesong controversy, Pyongyang has also stepped up rhetoric concerning its nuclear capabilities.

On Monday, the South Korean Defense Ministry said that while North Korea is in general capable of conducting a nuclear test at any time, there were no concrete indications that such a test - which would be the country's fourth - was imminent.

The last time North Korea conducted a nuclear test was in February. The move drew international condemnation and the United Nations issued increased sanctions against Pyongyang as a result.

The sanctions have prompted North Korea to steadily increase its threatening rhetoric against South Korea and the United States.

Most recently, North Korean authorities told foreign embassies that they could only vouch for their safety until April 10, adding to the speculation that North Korea is planning a missile launch.

hc/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)