SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea, reiterating that it considered the Korean Peninsula back in "a state of war," threatened Saturday to shut down a factory complex it jointly operates with South Korea and that stands as the last significant symbol of cooperation.
The industrial park, the eight-year-old Kaesong complex in the North Korean border town of the same name, is a crucial source of badly needed cash for the heavily sanctioned North. It funnels more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed there, and its operation has survived despite years of military tensions. The latest threat to close down Kaesong came amid a torrent of bellicose statements by the North in recent days, widely seen as a strategy to increase pressure on South Korea and the United States to soften their policies on the North.
Although South Korean officials reasserted that they were ready to retaliate if the North committed any military provocations, they said they saw no imminent sign of any such attacks. On Saturday, cross-border traffic operated as normal, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to travel to and from Kaesong.
Over 300 South Koreans remained in the complex, where 123 South Korean textile and other labor-intensive factories employ the North Korean workers, at an average monthly wage of $144.
The fate of Kaesong is seen as a crucial test of how far North Korea is willing to take its recent threats against the South. Its continued operation was often seen as a sign that Pyongyang's verbal militancy was not necessarily matched by its actions.
"The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side's personnel's entry into the zone and close it," North Korea said Saturday in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. It said its dignity was insulted by South Korean news media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency.
In another development, some of the North's main government-run Web sites were disabled on Saturday in what news media reports said were cyberattacks.
The disabled sites included those of Naenara, the government's official Web portal; Air Koryo, the state-run airline; and Voice of Korea, Pyongyang's international broadcast outlet.
North Korea Tech, a Web site that monitors Internet activities on the Korean Peninsula, said the problems appeared "to be part of a loosely coordinated effort by hackers to target North Korean sites." By late Saturday afternoon, North Korean officials had not confirmed any attacks on government-run Web sites.
The problems come as some analysts suspect that cyberattacks have become an increasingly frequent weapon in the intensified sparring between the Koreas, although each side denies hacking the other.
South Korean officials suspect that North Korea was behind cyberattacks on March 20 against three banks and the country's two largest broadcasters. The attacks came five days after North Korea blamed the South and the United States for cyberattacks that temporarily shut down some of its official Web sites, and warned of "consequences."
North Korea has been angry ever since South Korea and the United States started a joint military exercise in early March. Its bellicosity further escalated when the United Nations imposed more sanctions against it after its Feb. 12 nuclear test.
The North has since declared an "all-out action" against Washington and Seoul and said that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953, as well as all nonaggression agreements with the South, was nullified.
Last week, it cut the last remaining military hot lines with Seoul. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered all his missile units to be on standby and if provoked, attack the United States and South Korea with nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, although most analysts doubt the North has them.
A statement by South Korea's military said that although the North Korean threats were not new, they "are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula."
Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, and Gerry Mullany from Hong Kong.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.