SEOUL, South Korea - The North Korean factory park that is the last vestige of cooperation with the South moved closer to paralysis Saturday as nearly 100 South Korean workers went home across a border that Pyongyang has closed in the return direction.
South Korean workers who left the Kaesong industrial complex just north of the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone said their companies were running out of raw materials that ordinarily would be trucked in from the South. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said one of the more than 120 companies operating at the complex shut down Saturday, the fourth to do so since North Korea barred people and cargo from entering on Wednesday.
The closing of the border crossing is among many provocative moves Pyongyang has made in recent weeks. It has also made war threats as it expressed outrage over U.N. sanctions related to its February nuclear test, and over ongoing U.S.-South Korean annual military drills that Pyongyang calls war rehearsals.
On “CBS This Morning: Saturday,” former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill said the situation “bears close watching” but depicted North Korea’s actions as “buffoonery.”
“By the end of this month, we’re looking at the end of the exercises, and the question will be - after the North Koreans probably will fire off a couple of missiles - whether it’ll be the end of their propaganda exercise,” Hill said.
Outsiders say Pyongyang is talking tough to win negotiations and aid from the U.S., provoke softer policies from South Korea and make young authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un appear powerful to his own largely destitute people.
North Korea last month threatened a nuclear attack on the United States, and last week said it had entered a “state of war” with South Korea. Defense officials in Seoul say they have seen no preparations for a full-scale attack, though they add that the chance of a localized conflict remains.
On Tuesday, North Korea said it would restart a plutonium reactor closed in 2007 and use it to make fuel for nuclear bombs. On Thursday, South Korea’s defense minister said the North has moved a missile with “considerable range” to its east, possibly for testing or as part of drills.
U.S. intelligence has confirmed to CBS News that North Korea has moved missile parts to two locations in preparation for a possible launch within the next few days.
CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports from Seoul that development could complicate Secretary of State John Kerry’s upcoming visit to the South Korean capital and Washington’s attempts to de-escalate tension.
Analysts believe the Musudan, also called Taepodong-X, missile has not been tested, but is intended to hit targets at least 1,500 miles away, putting the U.S. territory of Guam at the limits of its range.