SEOUL: North Korea blew up an office set up to foster better ties with South Korea in its border town of Kaesong on Tuesday after it threatened to take action if North Korean defectors went ahead with a campaign to send propaganda leaflets into the North.
North Korea‘s KCNA state news agency said the liaison office, which had been closed since January over fears of the novel coronavirus, was “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion”.
Black-and-white surveillance video released by South Korea‘s Ministry of Defence showed a large explosion that appeared to bring down the four-storey structure. The blast also appeared to cause a partial collapse of a neighbouring 15-storey high-rise that had served as a residential facility for South Korean officials who staffed the liaison office.
The office, when it was operating, effectively served as an embassy for the old rivals and its destruction represents a major setback to efforts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to coax the North into cooperation.
Tension has been rising over recent days with North Korea threatening to cut ties with South Korea and retaliate over the propaganda leaflets, which carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including on human rights.
KCNA said the office was blown up to force “human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes”. North Korea refers to defectors as “human scum”.
A South Korean military source told Reuters that there had been signs North Korea was going ahead with the demolition earlier in the day, and South Korean military officials watched live surveillance imagery as the building was blown up.
The first diplomatic mission of its kind, the inter-Korean liaison office was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas.
The building had been originally used as offices for managing operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture between the two Koreas that was suspended in 2016 amid disagreement over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes.
South Korea spent at least 9.78 billion won (US$8.6 million) in 2018 to renovate the building, which stood as a gleaming blue glass structure in the otherwise drab industrial city.
When it was operating, South Koreans worked on the second floor and North Koreans on the fourth floor. The third floor held conference rooms for meetings between the two sides.
When the office was closed in January, South Korea said it had 58 personnel stationed there.
South Korea‘s won weakened by about 0.7% against the dollar in offshore non-deliverable forward trade as reports emerged of the building being blown up after onshore spot trade finished.
On Saturday, North Korean state media reported that Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, who serves as a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, had ordered the department in charge of inter-Korean affairs to “decisively carry out the next action”.
“Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen,” she was reported as saying.
Earlier on Tuesday, North Korean state media quoted the military as saying it has been studying an “action plan” to re-enter zones that had been demilitarized 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 KCNA.
South Korea‘s defence ministry called for North Korea to abide by the 2018 agreement, under which both sides’ militaries vowed to cease “all hostile acts” and they dismantled a number of structures along the heavily fortified Demilitarized 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.”
Several defector-led groups have regularly sent back flyers, together with food, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news into North Korea, usually by balloon over the border or in bottles by river.
South Korea, which has been keen to improve ties with the North, called on the defectors to stop and plans legal action against two of defector groups, saying their actions fuel cross-border tensions, pose risks to residents living near the border and cause environmental damage.
But the groups have said they intend to push ahead with their planned campaign this week.
South Korea‘s President Moon urged North Korea on Monday to keep peace agreements reached by the two leaders and return to dialogue.
MIAMI: The resurgence of the coronavirus in the United States ignited fierce debate Monday about whether to reopen schools, as global health officials warned that the pandemic will intensify unless more countries adopt comprehensive plans to combat it. “If the basics aren’t followed, there is Read More...
WASHINGTON: The federal government incurred the biggest monthly budget deficit in history in June as spending on programs to combat the coronavirus recession exploded while millions of job losses cut into tax revenues. The Treasury Department reported Monday that the deficit hit $864 billion last Read More...
Apple Inc (AAPL.O) has told its staff that a full return to US offices will not occur before the end of the year, Bloomberg News reported on Monday, citing an internal video message. The company is also pushing staff to work remotely as the virus forces the company to shut some of its stores agai Read More...
The awardees also received cash prizes of Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000 Kathmandu, July 13 The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation honoured writers contributing to Nepali literature by presenting them with various national and province-level awards at an award distribution programme today. Read More...
GENEVA: The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression on Monday accused the White House of mounting an “onslaught” against the media and referred to a negative “Trump effect” on global press freedom. In his last official press briefing before his six-year tenure ends later this month Read More...
Kathmandu, July 13 Minister of Education, Science and Technology Giriraj Mani Pokhrel said preparations were on to prepare a framework for achieving sustainable development for education at the province and local levels. Chairing a virtual meeting of the 32nd general assembly of Nepal National Read More...
BHOJPUR, JULY 13 Seventy-three households were shifted to a safer place after the houses were found to be at high risk of landslides at Silichong Rural Municipality, Sankhuwasabha. DSP Nawaraj Malla of Sankhuwasabha District Police Office said 350 people of 73 households of Sisuwa were shi Read More...
RAUTAHAT, JULY 13 Increase in water level in the Bagmati and Bakaiya rivers has led to erosion of embankments and river banks in Rautahat. In Rajdevi Municipality, the Bagmati river has started eroding the embankment in the northeast of Brahmapuri. With this, a number of places including Mudaw Read More...