South Korea willing to evacuate workers from North's factory park-minister

SEOUL Fri Apr 5, 2013 1:18am EDT

1 of 2. A South Korean employee working at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) changes his North Korean license plate to a South Korean one upon arriving at the South's Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ), just south of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, April 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

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SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is willing to pull out workers from the Kaesong industrial complex jointly run with North Korea if it becomes dangerous for them, the South's unification minister said on Friday amid growing tension on the Korean peninsula.

Increasingly strident rhetoric from the North has reached new heights, with South Korea and its ally the United States beefing up defenses in and around the peninsula after the North denied entry to the complex this week for hundreds of South Korean workers.

"When the situation requires us to do so, we are willing to pull out South Korean workers to ensure their safety," unification minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told foreign media.

The facility is the last shared link between the North and South. As of Thursday, 608 South Koreans remained at Kaesong, the Unification Ministry said.

South Korean companies have kept their workers there, in some cases extending their stays, to keep the plants running despite shortages of food and gas and the risk of their employees becoming caught in the middle of the stand-off.

Ryoo, a former professor in North Korean studies, was named as unification minister in charge of inter-Korean relations by new South Korean president Park Geun-hye.

He said South Korea has no immediate plan to pull workers out of Kaesong, calling for Pyongyang to reopen the factory park. Kaesong produces $2 billion a year in trade with the South and is one of the North's few sources of hard cash.

"For now we don't think it is dangerous," Ryoo said.

South Korean companies are estimated to have invested around $500 million in the park since it was opened in 2000.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

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