By Andres Sanchez Braun
Seoul, June 16 (efe-epa).- North Korea on Tuesday blew up the inter-Korean joint liaison office on its territory, South Korean authorities confirmed to EFE, in an escalation of tensions between the two countries.
The North destroyed the liaison office building at 5:49 GMT, the South’s unification ministry said in a text message.
The joint liaison was set up in late 2018 in the North Korean border city of Kaesong at a cost of $9 million as part of the diplomatic efforts undertaken that year by both neighbors.
After its recent rise in rhetoric against the South, Pyongyang threatened a few days ago to destroy the symbolic office, which was set up in late 2018 in the North Korean border city of Kaesong as part of the diplomatic efforts undertaken that year by both neighbors.
Photos taken by people near the border and published by the local Yonhap news agency show smoke coming from where the facility was located. The agency added that an explosion was heard, according to military sources.
In response, the South Korean military has tightened its surveillance and readiness posture for possible accidental clashes near the tense border areas, the agency added, citing officials.
Just before the destruction of the liaison office, South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs that the act had been partly pre-announced by the regime.
Hours later, Pyongyang confirmed on state media the destruction of the building as part of its decision to end all lines of communication between the two countries.
The South Korean government convened a National Security Council meeting after the news broke and released a statement expressing its deep regret over the action by North Korea.
The statement described the incident as a blow to the expectations of those seeking to boost inter-Korean relations and establish peace on the peninsula, and held the North entirely responsible for the destruction of the office.
Seoul also underlined that it would respond firmly if the North continued to take steps to further worsen the situation.
Also on Tuesday, North Korea threatened to send troops back to areas bordering the South.
In a statement released by state news agency KCNA, the general staff of the Korean People’s Army said that Pyongyang was “studying an action plan for taking measures to make the army advance again into the zones that had been demilitarized under the north-south agreement, turn the front line into a fortress and further heighten the military vigilance against the south.”
The statement did not specify which zones along the 4-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone that separates the two countries would be included in the plan, but it is believed that it would refer to the region of the Kaesong and Mount Kumgang, from where Pyongyang withdrew is troops following the agreement.
The pact to alleviate military border tensions was signed during the Pyongyang summit in 2018 by the leaders of both North and South Korea, and was a big step forward for the two countries that are technically still at war.
Tensions between the two sides escalated last week in response to activists – many of them North Korean defectors – sending anti-propaganda leaflets from South Korea by balloon across the border.
Even after Seoul denounced these groups to stop them from sending the leaflets, over the weekend, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, threatened to cut ties with the South in response to the balloons and added that the army had been instructed to prepare for further action.
In this sense, the statement released by the general staff in KCNA on Tuesday also said that “the current situation in which the north-south relations are turning worse and worse,” adding that the North would also begin to send balloons in a “large-scale leaflet scattering.”
North Korea has been tightening its stance with the United States and South Korea in the past year after the failure of the Hanoi denuclearization summit, in which Washington considered the Pyongyang’s disarmament proposal insufficient.