Now it gets scary: North Korea halts South Korean access to crucial factory near DMZ

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Image: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
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Updated at 05:48 GMT

Throughout the rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula, observers have been heartened by the fact that North Korea’s Kaesong factory complex, staffed by South Korean managers and the source of $2 billion a year in annual trade, has remained open.

Until today.

North Korea on Wednesday delayed access to Kaesong. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that its workers were being permitted to leave, but that the entry of new workers has been suspended. AFP noted that closing the factory “would mark a clear escalation of tensions beyond all the military rhetoric.”

Some 800 South Korean workers remain at Kaesong and South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin said he was “examining all options” to ensure their safety, Reuters reported. Despite the freeze on staff movements into the facility, many factories are still operating normally, one manager told the YTN news channel.

Prior to the Kaesong closure, North Korea’s most recent escalation was its announcement on Tuesday that it plans to restart a nuclear reactor it uses to generate plutonium for its weapons program. It has closed access to Kaesong once before, after joint US-South Korean military exercises in 2002.

South Korea’s main KOSPI Index was trading down 0.49% to 1,976.43 at midday local time. The won hit a six-month low after news of the Kaesong closure.

Stay tuned for further updates.