North Korea said it would cut all communications with South Korea at noon Tuesday as it stepped up pressure on the south for failing to prevent activists from circulating anti-Pyongyang leaflets through their tense border. The Liberal government of South Korea, which has closer ties to North Korea, has reiterated that it will try to restore peace to the Korean peninsula in its response to the warning.
Relations between the Koreas have been strained during a protracted stalemate in broader nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington. Some experts say that North Korea could deliberately create tensions to strengthen internal unity or launch a greater provocation in the face of persistent US-led sanctions.
The North Korean central news agency said that all cross-border lines of communication will be cut in “the first step in the determination to completely shut down all means of contact with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things”.
He said the decision was made by Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Chol, a former extremist military intelligence chief who, according to Seoul, was behind two attacks in 2010. who killed 50 South Koreans.
“The South Korean authorities have been guilty of hostile acts against (North Korea) by riff-raff, while trying to dodge heavy responsibilities with bad excuses,” said KCNA. “They should be forced to pay dearly for it. ”
Conservative South Korean activists, including North Korean defectors living in the South, have for years floated huge balloons in North Korea carrying leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un for his nuclear ambitions and abysmal record in human rights. The distribution of leaflets has long been a source of tension between the Koreas since the North bristled at any attempt to undermine Kim’s leadership.
Last week, Kim Yo Jong called the defectors “human scum” and “mongrel dogs” because the North also threatened to permanently close a liaison office and a jointly managed industrial park, as well as to cancel an agreement inter-Korean military in 2018 that aimed to reduce tensions.
North Korean citizens also recently participated in a series of mass rallies opposing the Seoul government, activities that the North usually organizes in times of tension with the outside world.
The South Korean Ministry of Unification, which manages relations with North Korea, said that cross-border help lines should be maintained as they are the basic means of communication between the two Koreas. He said the South Korean government will work to promote peace while respecting the inter-Korean agreements.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told reporters that the South Korean military is monitoring the situation, but has not specified how the South plans to communicate with the North if it is to be defused tensions quickly.
The South Korean government recently said it would push for a legal ban on leaflets, but the North said the South Korean response was disingenuous.
South Korean conservatives have urged their government to toughen North Korea and respect their constitutional rights to freedom of expression. South Korea has generally allowed militants to launch such balloons, but has suspended attempts when the North Korean warnings sounded serious. In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire on propaganda balloons flying towards their territory, triggering an exchange of fire that caused no known causality.
The two Koreas have multiple phone lines and faxes across the border, as they prevent ordinary people from exchanging phone calls, letters and emails. Among them, a direct line between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which was established after their summit in 2018 but has never been used publicly by leaders.
Officials in the two Koreas generally exchange brief messages twice a day through lower-level channels to check that they are functioning normally, even if there are no major problems between their governments. When South Korean officials contacted North Korea via at least four channels on Tuesday morning, North Korea did not respond, according to the South Korean government.
This is not the first time that North Korea has threatened to cut the chains. In previous cases, North Korea did not respond to South Korean phone calls or faxes for a long time before re-establishing these communication channels later when animosities subsided.
North Korea has suspended virtually all cooperation with South Korea, with nuclear talks with the United States stalled since the failure of a summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in early 2019. A main bottleneck in the United States and North Korea diplomacy is the United States’ refusal to lift much of the crippling sanctions against North Korea in exchange for limited denuclearization measures.
North Korea has criticized South Korea for failing to break away from Washington and for restoring huge joint economic projects delayed by US-led sanctions.
Kim Jong Un recently stressed the need to strengthen its national forces to resist sanctions. But many experts say North Korea’s already weak economy must have deteriorated further when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close its border with China, the country’s largest trading partner and aid recipient. North.
Associated Press author Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.