North Korea 'blows up' liaison office with South after threatening to send in military

It comes after North Korea threatened to send its military into the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two countries

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Tuesday 16 June 2020 09:12
Comments
North Korea confirms destruction of inter-Korean liaison office

North Korea appears to have blown up its joint liaison office with South Korea in the border town of Kaesong, according to the South’s state news agency.

Yonhap published images showing dark smoke rising above Kaesong, and quoted the Unification Ministry as saying the office was destroyed shortly before 3pm local time.

It comes after North Korea threatened to send its military into the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two countries on Tuesday, and amid worsening tensions over a campaign by defectors to send leaflets over the border back into the North.

The liaison office was located in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), a business park inside North Korea’s territory that was set up in 2004 and largely funded by the South to improve bilateral relations.

The park allowed wealthier South Korean companies to run factories with North Korean labour, and operated successfully for 12 years until the project was paused in 2016.

South Korea’s presidential office said the country would respond “sternly” if North Korea continues to raise tensions.

Deputy national security adviser Kim You-geun told a briefing that the destruction of the office, which was built in the KIC in 2018, “broke the expectations of all people who hope for the development of inter-Korean relations and lasting peace on the peninsula”.

“We’re making clear that the North is entirely responsible for all the consequences this might cause,” he said.

The office was one of the key tangible outcomes of talks between Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, part of a period of blossoming peaceful relations following the Kim-Donald Trump summit in Singapore in June 2018.

It has become a symbol of relations between the two countries, and the liaison office was mentioned specifically on Saturday amid threats made by Mr Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong.

Ms Kim, who has been placed in charge of inter-Korean relations by her brother, warned that South Korea would before long witness the “tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed”.

Ms Kim also said she was ordering the military to be ready in case it was decided that they should be deployed in the DMZ, ostensibly to stop the leafletting by two prominent North Korean defector groups.

The South Korean government has promised to crack down on the leafletting, which it said would be stopped during 2018 talks between Mr Kim and the South’s president Moon Jae-in.

Earlier on Tuesday, the North Korean military said it was “studying an action plan” drawn up by the government and that it stood ready to “turn the front line into a fortress and heighten military vigilance”.

Analysts say Pyongyang appears to be taking an increasingly antagonistic approach to inter-Korean relations, in order to build leverage that bypasses a Trump administration that is now entirely focussed on American domestic affairs and the November presidential election.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest, said North Korea had “decided to start another crisis” after failing to achieve sanctions relief from denuclearisation talks with the US.

“Today’s actions have zero to do with leaflets sent over the DMZ, but [rather] the anger it feels towards the Moon government for not delivering bigger incentives in recent years of détente,” he told The Independent.

It must be presumed that North Korea will continue to make grand gestures, Kazianis said, and this could include the first test of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) since 2017. With the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War coming up on 25 June, as well as Independence Day in the US on 4 July, North Korea will have ample opportunities ”to make as big a splash as possible”, he said.

China and Russia both issued statements calling for calm on the Korean peninsula on Tuesday. The Kremlin said it was following developments closely, and called for restraint on all sides.

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