Saturday, June 3News That Matters

‘Enraged’ N Korea blows up joint liaison office with South

North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office with the South as tensions over “human scum” defectors sending leaflets into the North grow.

A four-storey building, intended to facilitate dialogue between the two Koreas, was destroyed in the joint industrial complex on the North Korean side of the border at at 2.49pm (6.49am BST).

No South Koreans are believed to have been in the office in Kaesong after it was temporarily closed in January due to coronavirus.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the nation destroyed the office in a “terrific explosion” because its “enraged people” were determined to “force (the) human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes”.

The inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex which is still shut down, is seen in this picture taken from the Dora observatory near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Image: The four storey inter-Korean Kaesong building was destroyed

This is an apparent reference to North Korean defectors who for years have floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border in balloons – an act the North says violates a series of peace agreements.

Hours before the explosion, The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), in the North, said it is getting ready to send troops into the zone between the two countries to “turn the front line into a fortress”.

A smoke rises from Kaesong Industrial Complex in this picture taken from the south side in Paju, South Korea, June 16, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
Liaison office blown up by North Korea

“Our army will rapidly and thoroughly implement any decisions and orders of the Party and government,” the KPA said in a statement carried by the official KCNA state news agency.

More from North Korea

Just before the explosion, South Korea’s vice unification minister Suh Ho visited Seokmo Island on the western border to witness how prepared the police and the coast guard were to stop people sending leaflets into the North to try to calm tensions.

Kim Yo Jung, the powerful sister of Kim and his potential successor, warned days earlier the North would demolish the “useless” inter-Korean liaison office the South is believed to have spent £6.7m refurbishing.

Park Sang Hak, a North Korean defector and head of an anti-North Korea civic group living in the South, has been sending leaflets denouncing Kim Jon Un to the North
Image: North Korean defectors have sent leaflets denouncing Kim Jong Un in balloons over the border to the North

She said she would leave it to the military to come up with the next retaliation step against the “enemy” South.

“Our army is keeping a close watch on the current situation in which the (North-South) relations are turning worse and worse, and getting itself fully ready for providing a sure military guarantee to any external measures to be taken by the party and government,” said the KPA’s General Staff.

The two Koreas signed a bilateral military agreement in 2018 to reduce tensions across the border, committing to jointly take steps to reduce conventional military threats, such as establishing border buffers on ground and sea, and no-fly zones.

A North Korean soldier was seen beside his guard post near the demilitarised zone as the liaison building was blown up
Image: A North Korean soldier was seen beside his guard post near the demilitarised zone as the liaison building was blown up

They also removed some frontline guard posts in a symbolic gesture.

In an apparent tit-for-tat against North Korean defectors and activists sending messages, the North’s military said it would open unspecified areas near the border and its southwestern waters so North Koreans could send anti-South Korea propaganda leaflets to the South.

Last week, North Korea snubbed any positive advances made by the US as it marked the two-year anniversary of the first summit between Donald Trump and Kim by questioning the need to keep “holding hands” with the US.

Kaesong Industrial Complex is shrouded by smoke in this picture taken from the south side in Paju, South Korea, June 16, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
Image: Kaesong Industrial Complex is shrouded in smoke after the blast

‘Testing missiles was not working but blowing up an office meant for peace talks will get the world’s attention’
By Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent

Why merely close an office when you can explode it? North Korea showed its charismatic taste for the dramatic by blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office at Kaesong.

Theatrical – but also methodical. North Korea has been orchestrating a campaign against the South, ostensibly over the issue of propaganda leaflets sent over the border using balloons.

For weeks it has been given warnings, and specific ones. The threat of the “complete collapse” of the office, which is in North Korean territory, was mentioned this weekend.

Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong (R), warned the liaison office would be destroyed
Image: Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned the liaison office would be destroyed

So too has the threat of sending troops back to the demilitarised zone between the two countries – potentially the next step as relations worsen.

North Korea is undoubtedly irked by the leaflets – and South Korea did promise to stop sending them, at the 2018 meeting between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in that led to the establishment of the now smouldering liaison office.

Private citizens, including North Korean defectors, are the ones sending the balloons over, although Seoul has announced plans to introduce legislation banning them.

But more important is North Korea’s frustration at the lack of progress in economic relief, frustration both at South Korea itself, but also the US.

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This is a way of getting more attention, especially after missile launches this year raised only a shrug in Washington.

And not only is this a methodical campaign, it has a very public leader: Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister, has been front and centre of the domestic propaganda effort.

When Kim Jong Un was not seen in public for a long period, with speculation about his health, attention turned to her as a potential successor. Such public aggression also burnishes her credentials.

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