Pyongyang increases pressure on Seoul, resumes belligerent tone

By Andres Sanchez Braun

Seoul, Jun 9 (EFE).- North Korea on Tuesday cut off communications with South Korea in an apparent response to activists sending anti-propaganda leaflets by balloon across the border, thus increasing pressure on Seoul by resorting to a hostile tone.

North Korea made the announcement through its official news agency, KCNA, which said communication lines with the government at Seoul would be cut from midday (03:00 GMT).

Moreover, the regime stressed that from then on it would view South Korea as an enemy state.

“The relevant field of our side will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the north and the south, which has been maintained through the north-south joint liaison office, the East and West Seas communication lines between the militaries of the north and the south, the inter-Korean trial communication line and the hotline between the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK and the Chongwadae from 12:00 on June 9, 2020,” KCNA said.

This move “is the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things.”

Seoul’s unification ministry said later Tuesday that “the liaison office attempted to call North Korea this morning, but the North did not answer,” according to the local Yonhap news agency.

The South’s defense ministry said Pyongyang also did not answer calls via military hotlines.

Leader Kim Jong-un’s regime was considering retaliatory measures last week for the sending of half a million leaflets from the South into the North using balloons.

The statement released by KCNA does not expressly cite the sending of the leaflets as the reason for the cutting of the inter-Korean lines of communication, but refers to maneuvers to “hurt the dignity” of the North Korean dictator and proclaims that “there can neither be a pardon nor an opportunity.”

However, last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, had threatened retaliatory measures for the anti-regime propaganda leaflets sent on May 31 by activists – many of them North Korean defectors – from the south.

Kim Yo-jong, recently appointed first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, lashed out against “defectors from the north” and warned their southern neighbor would pay a “dear price” if they let this situation go on.

Pyongyang said that the “nasty excuses” of the Seoul government on this issue are protected by its freedom of expression laws, which have allowed activities such as the use of balloons with anti-North propaganda to take place.

Meanwhile, the South Korean unification ministry had urged activists to stop the action, citing the risk to the safety of South Koreans residing along the border, given that the North Korean army had responded to the incident by opening fire.

The announcement picked up by KCNA said the “hostile acts” and “nasty excuses” are leading inter-Korean relations “into a catastrophe.”

The decision was communicated after a meeting on Monday between the vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol, and the sister of the North Korean dictator.

It remains to be seen what Pyongyang seeks to accomplish with this move, besides strengthening the position of Kim Yo-jong, who has rapidly gained importance in the regime and now become the face of a renewed belligerence against Seoul.

Meanwhile, the South Korean unification ministry official reiterated that the communication lines ought to remain open as per the inter-Korean agreements, and that the government would continue to strive for peace and prosperity in the Korean peninsula.

The cutting off of communications comes at a time when inter-Korean relations remain frozen.

Over the past months, North Korea has decided to cool its relationship with the South, a United States ally, due to the lack of agreement during the failed summit on denuclearization that took place in Hanoi in February 2019, in which Washington rejected the North Korean offer on disarmament, considering it not enough. EFE

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