Seoul: North Korea blows up liaison office
Tough action seen as first step to re-militarisation of Kaesong complex
published : 16 Jun 2020 at 14:22
North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border on Tuesday, the South's Unification ministry said, after days of increasingly virulent rhetoric from Pyongyang.
"North Korea blows up Kaesong Liaison Office at 14:49," the ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said in a one-line alert sent to reporters.
The statement came minutes after an explosion was heard and smoke seen rising from the long-shuttered joint industrial zone in Kaesong where the liaison office was located, Yonhap news agency reported citing unspecified sources.
The industrial park was jointly established with South Korea, but has been shuttered amid tensions between the two rivals. The site is also home to a liaison office intended to maintain relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.
The facility was opened in 2018 the spirit of rapprochement advocated by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and was part of moves to reduce threats along the border, where the two countries have stationed about 1 million troops. It allowed for constant communication between the two sides for the first time since the start of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Its destruction came after Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said at the weekend: "Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen."
The move comes about a week after Kim Jong Un’s regime abandoned its operations at the facility that once allowed the rivals to communicate around the clock.
Since early June, North Korea has issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of the South over activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border — something defectors do on a regular basis.
Last week it announced it was severing all official communication links with South Korea.
The leaflets — usually attached to hot air balloons or floated in bottles — criticise North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses and his nuclear ambitions.
Analysts say Pyongyang may be seeking to manufacture a crisis to increase pressure on Seoul while nuclear negotiations with Washington are at a standstill.
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea's army said it was "fully ready" to take action against the South, included re-entering areas that had been demilitarised under an inter-Korean agreement.
"North Korea is frustrated that the South has failed to offer an alternative plan to revive the US-North talks, let alone create a right atmosphere for the revival," said Cheong Seong-chang, a director of the Sejong Institute's Center for North Korean Studies.
"It has concluded the South has failed as a mediator in the process."
The latest action taken by North Korea illustrates its “strong will” to “completely shut off” its relations with the South.
“North Korea is working toward re-militarisation of the Kaesong industrial complex,” Cheong siad. “And blowing the liaison office in the complex would just be the first step on their road map.”