SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) – North Korea blew up and destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border on Tuesday (June 16), South Korea said, after days of increasingly virulent rhetoric from Pyongyang.
“North Korea blows up Kaesong Liaison Office at 14:49,” the South‘s Unification 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 the North’s border city of Kaesong where the liaison office was located, Yonhap news agency reported.
Its destruction came after Ms 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.”
Ms Kim serves as a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party.
A South Korean military source said there were signs of the impending demolition earlier in the day, and South Korean military officials watched live surveillance imagery of the building as it was blown up.
North Korea has made several threats against South Korea in recent days , and had threatened to destroy the inter-Korean liaison office, which was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas.
When it was operating, dozens of officials from both sides would work in the building, with South Koreans travelling each week into the North. The office has been closed since January over coronavirus fears.
Earlier on Tuesday, North Korean state media had quoted the military as saying it has been studying an “action plan” to re-enter zones that had been demilitarised under a 2018 inter-Korean pact and “turn the front line into a fortress”.
“Our army will rapidly and thoroughly implement any decisions and orders of the party and government,” the Korean People’s Army said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
Seoul’s defence ministry called for Pyongyang to abide by the 2018 agreement, in which both sides’ militaries vowed to cease “all hostile acts” and dismantled a number of structures along the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone between the two countries.
“We’re taking the situation seriously,” ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing. “Our military is maintaining readiness posture to be able to respond to any situation.”
Tensions between the two Koreas have risen in recent days, with Pyongyang issuing a series of vitriolic condemnations to Seoul since early June over a campaign by defector groups to send propaganda leaflets into North 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.
Several defector-led groups regularly send back flyers, together with food, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news, usually by balloon over the heavily fortified border or in bottles by river.
South Korea plans legal action against two of the defector groups carrying out the leaflet campaign, saying they fuel cross-border tensions, pose risks to residents living near the border and cause environmental damage. But the groups say they intend to push ahead with their planned campaign this week.
South Korea‘s President Moon Jae-in urged Pyongyang on Monday t o keep peace agreements reached by the two leaders and return to dialogue.
Last week, Pyongyang announced it was severing all official communication links with Seoul. On Saturday, Ms Kim said she had ordered the military to prepare for their next action.
Analysts say Pyongyang may be seeking to manufacture a crisis to increase pressure on Seoul while nuclear negotiations with Washington are at a standstill.
“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 Mr Cheong Seong-chang, a director of the Sejong Institute’s Center for North Korean Studies