South Korea will pull out all remaining workers from a jointly run industrial zone in North Korea, after Pyongyang rejected a call for formal talks to end a standoff that led to operations being suspended.
The decision to remove about 170 people from the Kaesong factory park located just north of the armed border deepens a conflict between the two Koreas and puts at risk their last remaining channel of exchange that resulted from their breakthrough 2000 summit and a bid to improve ties.
The two Koreas remain technically at war under a mere truce that ended hostilities in their 1950-53 conflict and North Korea, angry at UN sanctions and joint South Korean-US military drills, has threatened both countries with nuclear attack in recent weeks.
"Because our nationals remaining in the Kaesong industrial zone are experiencing greater difficulties due to the North's unjust actions, the government has come to the unavoidable decision to bring back all remaining personnel in order to protect their safety," South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said.
The North withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex this month amid spiralling tension between the two Koreas. The North has prevented South Korean workers and supplies from getting in to the zone since April 3.
Impoverished North Korea rejected the proposal of talks, saying the South has acted in an "unpardonable" manner to jeopardize a "precious" legacy of the rivals' bid to seek peace.
The North's National Defence Commission, its supreme leadership body, repeated that what it saw as the reckless behaviour of the South had thrown into question the safety of the zone's operations.
The Kaesong project opened in 2004 as part of a so-called sunshine policy of engagement and optimism between the two Koreas, and 123 South Korean companies produced clothing, household goods and motorcycle helmets employing local workers.