(In the third sentence of the first paragraph, “his” floor was replaced by “own” floor)
SEOUL / PJÖNGJANG (dpa-AFX) – Inner-Korean relations have again suffered a significant setback. After breaking all communications with South Korea, North Korea blew up the first joint liaison office near the border. With the drastic measure taken on their own soil, the internationally isolated leadership in Pyongyang further cleared their displeasure with a new propaganda flyer campaign by South Korean activists.
“At 2:50 p.m. (local time), the liaison office was tragically destroyed by a terrible explosion,” the state media said Tuesday. The influential sister of ruler Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, had previously threatened to demolish the “useless” communication office in the border town of Kaesong.
Pyongyang’s actions provoked a first clear warning from South Korea since tensions rose again this month. “If North Korea takes further steps to aggravate the situation, we will respond strictly,” said the Presidential Office in Seoul after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. The previous day, President Moon Jae In had appealed to North Korea to return to the dialogue.
China spoke out in a reaction to “peace and stability” on the Korean peninsula. “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 a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The liaison office was once considered a “symbol of peace”. Its establishment was a concrete result of the first summit between Moon Jae In and Kim Jong Un in April 2018. Among other things, its purpose was to be able to consult on bilateral matters at any time. Seoul also wanted to use the office to talk to North Korea about dismantling its nuclear weapons program. The office was orphaned recently.
The Seoul Ministry of Unification confirmed the demolition of the building. The South Korean news agency Yonhap showed pictures of a pillar of smoke rising from the site of the once jointly operated industrial park in Kaesong. The office was also there.
The destruction of the office testifies to the anger of the North Koreans, the North Korean reports said, referring to the leaflet campaign by South Korean activists and North Korean refugees. The aim was to “let human scum and those who protect scum pay for their crimes”.
North Korea had previously cut off the telephone and fax lines to the south and threatened to cut off all contacts and further retaliation. Pyongyang has accused the government in Seoul of tolerating the propaganda actions to send balloons with leaflets to the north criticizing the autocratic leadership in Pyongyang at the border. Most recently, the groups had sent out around 500,000 leaflets at the end of May.
North Korea sees these actions offend the dignity of the ruler, for whom a leadership cult is celebrated in the country. Experts believe that Pyongyang’s approach is even more. “North Korea is creating tension,” wrote Jean H. Lee of the Wilson Center in the United States 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 Jong Un and the US president Donald Trump in February 2019 in Vietnam, the bilateral nuclear negotiations will no longer progress. Inner Korean relations are also suffering from the standstill.
Before the blast, the North Korean military also threatened to re-occupy “demilitarized” zones on the border with soldiers. Plans by the government and the Workers’ Party to reopen the army in zones that had been demilitarized under the agreement between the two countries were being examined, the general staff was quoted by the state media. South Korean media speculated that North Korea could, among other things, send soldiers back to the Kaesong area. Both countries had operated their joint industrial complex there until 2016. There used to be soldiers stationed on the site./dg/DP/eas