Korean conflict may make Chernobyl look like fairy tale: Putin

South Korean vehicle carrying South Korean workers from Kaesong complex.

PAJU, South Korea - North Korea, after weeks of threats against the United States and South Korea, suspended its sole remaining major project with the South on Monday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said any nuclear conflict may make Chernobyl look like a fairy tale.

Reclusive North Korea's decision to all but close the Kaesong industrial park coincided with speculation that it will carry out some sort of provocative action in coming days - another nuclear weapons test or missile launch.

Tension has been rising since the United Nations imposed new sanctions against the North in response to its third test of a nuclear weapon in February. Pyongyang has been further angered by weeks of joint military exercises by South Korean and US forces and threatened both countries with nuclear attack.

Putin said conflict on the peninsula could cause greater devastation than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

"I would make no secret about it, we are worried about the escalation on the Korean peninsula, because we are neighbours," he told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to a trade fair in Germany.

"And if, God forbid, something happens, Chernobyl which we all know a lot about, may seem like a child's fairy tale. Is there such a threat or not? I think there is... I would urge everyone to calm down... and start to resolve the problems that have piled up for many years there at the negotiating table."

A senior North Korean official, quoted by the official KCNA news agency, said after a visit to Kaesong that authorities would withdraw North Korean workers and then decide on whether it would continue to operate.

"It will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its (continued) existence or close it," KCNA quoted Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, as saying.

KCNA said leaders in South Korea, a major US ally, were "running the whole gamut of intrigues to find a pretext for igniting a war against (North Korea) after reducing the Kaesong Industrial zone to a theatre of confrontation".

Seoul, it said, was trying to "turn the zone into a hotbed of war" against the North.

The North last week barred South Koreans from entering the zone and South Koreans had been leaving the zone gradually in the past week as raw materials and food begin to run out.

Analysts had suggested Pyongyang would continue to allow Kaesong to operate as it accounted for some $2 billion in annual trade, with 50,000 North Koreans working in the zone making household goods for 123 South Korean companies.

It also generates more than $80 million a year in cash in wages - paid to the state rather than to workers.

About 475 South Koreans workers remain in Kaesong. Thirteen factories have stopped operations due to lack of raw materials, according to the South's Unification Ministry.

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