North Korea blows up inter-Korean liaison office in ‘terrific explosion’
North Korea has blown up an inter-Korean liaison office building north of the heavily armed border with South Korea, which has intensified tensions on the Korean peninsula and put Washington and Seoul under pressure in the midst of a deadlocked nuclear diplomacy.
The demolition of the building, which is located in North Korean territory and where no South Koreans work, is largely symbolic, but it's probably the most provocative thing Pyongyang has done since entering nuclear diplomacy in 2018 after a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea many fear war.
It is a major setback for the efforts of Liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in to restore inter-Korean engagement.
The opening ceremony for the liaison office in Kaesong (Korea Pool / Yonhap / AP)
Pyongyang's official Korean central news agency said the nation destroyed the office in a "terrible explosion" because its "angry people" were determined "to force human scum and those who protected the scum to be expensive for their crimes pay". This apparently refers to North Korean defectors who have been leaflets against Pyongyang across the border for years.
The agency did not announce how the office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong was destroyed.
Photos from the Yonhap News Agency of the South showed smoke rising from an apparent complex of buildings. The agency said the area is part of an inter-Korean industrial park that has since closed, and the liaison office was located there.
Seoul expressed "deep regret" for the destruction and warned of a harsh response if North Korea took additional steps to increase tensions.
South Korean artillery on the border (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
The statement, released after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, said the demolition was "an act that betrays hopes of improving South-Korean relations and building peace on the Korean peninsula."
The South Korean Ministry of Defense said separately that it is closely following North Korea's military activities and is ready to counter future provocations.
The north also said it had cut off all government and military communication channels with the south, threatening to abandon bilateral peace deals reached during the three summits by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with Mr. Moon in 2018.
Some analysts believe that after failing to get what it wants in nuclear talks, the North will turn to provocation to win concessions from outside, as its economy is likely to change due to ongoing U.S.-led sanctions and the corona virus pandemic has worsened.
Kim Jong Un (Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service / AP)
North Korea can also be frustrated because sanctions prevent Seoul from detaching from Washington to resume economic projects with Pyongyang.
The liaison office has been closed since late January for concerns about the corona virus. The site, reportedly built with South Korean money at a cost of $ 8.3 million (£ 6.5 million), was the first such office between the two Koreas since their division in 1945 and became a symbol of engagement policy viewed by Mr. Moon.
South Korean President Chung Eui-yong's national security adviser, who commuted between Pyongyang and Washington to help prepare for Kim's first summit in June 2018 with President Donald Trump, convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to help destroy the To discuss liaison offices.
North Korea had previously threatened to demolish the office when it strengthened its rhetoric about Seoul's failure to prevent activists from flying propaganda leaflets across the border.
Kim Yo Jong (Jorge Silva / AP)
On Saturday evening, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of the North Korean leader, warned that Seoul will soon "experience a tragic scene in which the useless North-South liaison office (in North Korea) has completely collapsed". She also said she would give the North Korean military the right to take the next step in retaliation against South Korea.
The north has threatened to abandon a bilateral 2018 tension relief agreement that, according to observers, could lead to clashes along land and sea borders.
On Monday, Mr. Moon urged North Korea to stop hostility and return to the talks. The two Koreas should not reverse the peace agreements that he and Mr. Kim had reached at the 2018 summits.
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