Seoul Pulling Workers from Kaesong Complex

South Korean officials say the remaining workers at a shuttered factory park in North Korea have begun returning home.

Caravans of cars, buses and trucks loaded with belongings crossed into South Korea on Saturday. The South’s Unification Ministry said 127 of the 175 workers at the Kaesong industrial park would return Saturday, with the remaining coming in the following days.

The decision to bring the workers home came Friday, hours after North Korea rejected the South’s proposal for formal negotiations to restart operations at the Kaesong complex.

Seoul gave Pyongyang 24 hours on Thursday to agree to talks, warning of a tough response if Pyongyang did not agree to the offer.

Hours after the deadline passed Friday, Pyongyang dismissed the offer and warned that it would be the first to take tough action if the South insisted on worsening the situation at the border town.

Operations at Kaesong, just north of the border, have been suspended since North Korea angrily pulled its workers and blocked South Korean access to the center earlier this month.

Kaesong was the last remaining symbol of cooperation between the two foes, and was seen as a bellwether of Korean relations. Although work at the center has been suspended during times of heightened tensions, it had never been shut down completely since it was established in 2004.

Though Pyongyang has refrained from making daily threats of violence against the South in recent days, tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is angry over U.N. Security Council sanctions passed in response to Pyongyang’s February nuclear test, as well as annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

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