Joint Korean industrial zone closes for holiday

SEOUL (AFP) - The South-North Korean industrial complex that has become a chip in a high-stakes game of military brinkmanship on the Korean peninsula was closed on Friday for a scheduled holiday, officials said.

The 53,000 North Koreans who work at the 123 South Korean companies in the Kaesong joint industrial zone, 10 kilometres inside the North, took the day off, the South's Unification Ministry spokeswoman said.

With inter-Korean tensions at their highest level for years, North Korea blocked South Koreans from accessing Kaesong on Wednesday, and the next day threatened to pull all its workers out and shut the whole complex down.

The Unification Ministry said there were still 608 South Korean citizens in Kaesong on Friday, after 253 returned to the South.

Mangers of the companies in the complex have warned that the blocking of raw materials and personnel movement will force them to shut operations in a matter of days.

Established in 2004, Kaesong is a crucial hard currency source for North Korea.

Neither of the Koreas has allowed previous crises to significantly affect the complex, which is the only surviving example of inter-Korean cooperation and seen as a bellwether for stability on the Korean peninsula.

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