Pyongyang rejects dialog with Seoul, vows to remilitarize border

(Update 2: Complete rewrite, new head and lede, details throughout)

By Andrés Sánchez Braun

Seoul, June 17 (efe-epa).- After blowing up the inter-Korean joint liaison office a day earlier, Pyongyang on Wednesday rejected an offer of dialog with the South and announced it would redeploy troops to the shared border, underscoring its willingness to reactivate tensions and force negotiations to relax sanctions imposed on it.

In a message released by state news agency KCNA, Kim Yo-jong, sister of leader Kim Jong-un, rejected the South’s offer to send a special envoy to the North for dialog to try to defuse the situation – an offer that Seoul had not publicly released.

The message said that Kim Yo-jong, first vice department director of Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee, “made known the stand that we flatly reject the tactless and sinister proposal.”

KCNA also released another notice in which Kim Yo-jong criticised a speech made by South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit in which he urged the North not to reverse its commitments made at that time.

Kim said that Moon’s words were “full of excuses” and that he should have apologized for the sending of anti-regime propaganda leaflets across the border by activists in the South, which is why Pyongyang had cut ties with Seoul.

The South Korean presidential office, which until now had almost always shown a flexible and tolerant stance towards Pyongyang, to the point of being criticized for denouncing activists sending the balloons, decided Wednesday to send a stern reply.

“It is a senseless act to disparage [Moon’s speech] in a very rude tone without understanding its purpose at all,” spokesman for the South Korean presidential office, Yoon Do-han, said at a news conference.

Yoon also criticized the North’s lack of “basic etiquette” in unilaterally making the South Korean offer of dialog public, and assured that Seoul will not tolerate any more “indiscreet rhetoric” that “fundamentally harm(s) the mutual trust” between the leaders.

Meanwhile, with inter-Korean relations now at their worst point in over two years, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chol offered to resign Wednesday, saying he felt sorry for “failing to live up to the demands and expectations of our people for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”

It is not yet known if his resignation has been accepted.

Adding to the message from Kim Yo-jong was another from the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, which reiterated today in another KCNA statement its plans to remilitarize the border.

The North Korean military leadership confirmed that it will send contingents to the surroundings of the city of Kaesong and Mount Kumgang, two symbolic areas next to the border that host inter-Korean cooperation projects that are currently inoperative.

These two zones were demilitarized based on an agreement signed by Kim Jong-un and Moon at the Pyongyang summit in September 2018, which was then considered a big step forward for the two countries that are technically still at war, since their conflict between 1950 and 1953 ended with a ceasefire instead of a peace treaty.

The North assured that it will restore the border guard posts that were dismantled after the signing of the pact and that it would “resume all kinds of regular military exercises in the areas close to the boundary.”

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff also responded Wednesday, expressing concern over the redeployment of assets to the border as envisaged by the North Korean army.

“These moves thwart two decades of efforts by South and North Korea to improve inter-Korean relations and to keep peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Jeon Dong-jin, JCS director of operations, said in a statement to the media.

Jeon warned that “if the North actually takes such a move, it will certainly pay the price for it.”

Analysts believe that the regime has found the sending of balloons with propaganda an excuse to harden a strategy of pressure, which originated in the failed denuclearization summit in Hanoi in February 2019.

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