When it started almost a decade ago, the zone was hailed as paving a way for the reunification of the two Koreas. South Korea viewed Kaesong as a deterrent to war, a buffer zone when tensions ran high and a channel where North Koreans could get a glimpse into South Korean culture through their interactions with South Koreans, albeit limited.
But even before Monday’s announcement, Pyongyang had been allowing operations at the Kaesong complex to wither. Last month it cut the communications with South Korea that had helped regulate border crossings at Kaesong, and last week it barred South Korean workers and cargo from entering North Korea.
Operations had continued and South Koreans already at Kaesong were allowed to stay, but dwindling personnel and supplies had forced about a dozen companies to stop operating at Kaesong before North Koreans were told to stop working there.
North Korea briefly restricted the heavily fortified border crossing at Kaesong in 2009, but factories continued operations.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for relations with the North, said 75 South Koreans at the complex were set to come home Tuesday, leaving about 400. The North has not said that they have to leave.
The more than 120 South Korean companies operating at Kaesong urged North Korea to quickly normalize operations.
‘‘If this situation continues, companies will face the risk of going bankrupt,’’ said Yoo Chang-geun, a vice president of the Corporate Association of Gaesong Industrial Complex.
After an emergency meeting Tuesday in Seoul, representatives of the companies said in a joint statement that they hope to send a delegation of small- and medium-sized companies to North Korea in hopes of reopening the complex. The statement also appealed to South Korea to take a ‘‘mature, embracing posture’’ and work out all available measures to help normalize Kaesong’s operations.
A South Korean manager at Daemyung Blue Jeans Inc. at Kaesong said he plans to stay at the complex to protect company assets. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, he said there was hope among workers from both sides that current tension would only be temporary.
‘‘Some of the North Koreans left the factory this morning with a smiling face and told me that ‘We can meet each other again,'’’ he said.
Lee reported from Seoul, South Korea. AP writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.