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North Korea blows up the liaison office on the border with South Korea

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Pyongyang / Seoul - Inter-Korean relations have again suffered a significant setback. After the interruption of all communication lines to South Korea, North Korea blew up the first joint liaison office near the border.

With the drastic measure on their own soil, the internationally isolated leadership in Pyongyang vented its displeasure at a new propaganda leaflet campaign by South Korean activists. "At 2:50 pm, the liaison office was tragically destroyed in a terrible explosion," the state media reported on Tuesday. The influential sister of the ruler Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, had previously threatened the demolition of the "useless" communications office in the border city of Kaesong.

Leaflets as a provocation

The destruction of the office testifies to the anger of the North Koreans, it said in the North Korean reports, alluding to the leaflet campaign by South Korean activists and North Korean refugees. The aim was to have "human scum and those who offer protection to the scum pay for their crimes".

North Korea had previously cut the telephone and fax lines to the south and threatened to break off all contacts and to take further retaliatory measures. Pyongyang accuses the government in Seoul of tolerating the propaganda campaigns, during which balloons with leaflets criticizing the leadership in Pyongyang are sent north at the border. Most recently, the groups had sent out around 500,000 leaflets at the end of May.

North Korea sees these actions as offending the dignity of the ruler. Experts assume that there is more to the process. "North Korea is creating tension," writes Jean H. Lee of the Wilson Center in the US on Twitter. "Pyongyang is suffering from biting international sanctions and is trying to drive Seoul to break the US-led sanctions campaign."

Since the failed summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February 2019 after around a year of thaw, the bilateral nuclear negotiations have not made any progress. Relations within Korea are also suffering from the stalemate.

Soldiers in "demilitarized" zones

On Tuesday, after a propaganda leaflet campaign, North Korea threatened to re-occupy "demilitarized" zones on the border with soldiers. "Our army is closely monitoring the situation in which inter-Korean relations are noticeably deteriorating," said the army leadership on Tuesday.

The general staff was quoted as saying that the government and the Labor Party would examine plans to allow the army to re-enter zones that had been demilitarized under the agreement between the two countries. He also indicated that the People's Army could in turn send leaflets to South Korea.

The plan is to turn the front line into a fortress and increase military vigilance towards South Korea. Details of the zones that the military could re-enter were not given.

South Korean media speculated that North Korea could, among other things, send soldiers to the Kaesong area again. Both countries had operated a joint industrial complex there until 2016. Before the industrial park opened in 2004, soldiers were stationed on the site.

Inter-Korean relations have come to a standstill since the failed summit between North Korea and the United States in February of last year. Experts suspect that North Korea intends to increase the pressure on the USA as the conflict with South Korea escalates.

National Security Council in South Korea

In South Korea, the Standing Committee of the National Security Council met to discuss the situation. The establishment of the liaison office was a concrete result of the first summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim in April 2018.

Meanwhile, China spoke out in favor of "peace and stability". "North Korea and South Korea are one people, and as a neighbor, China has always hoped to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on Tuesday. (APA, red 16.6.2020)