N Korea blows up inter-Korea liaison office, raising tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea yesterday in a dramatic display of anger that sharply raises tensions on the Korean Peninsula and puts pressure on Washington and Seoul amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy.

The demolition of the building, which is located on North Korean territory and had no South Koreans working there, is largely symbolic.

But it’s still likely the most provocative thing North Korea has done since it entered nuclear diplomacy in 2018 after a United States (US)-North Korean standoff had many fearing war. It will pose a serious setback to the efforts of liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in to restore inter-Korean engagement.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the nation destroyed the office in a “terrific explosion” because its “enraged people” were determined to “force (the) human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes,” apparently referring to North Korean defectors who for years have floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border. The agency did not detail how the office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong was destroyed.

Photos from the South’s Yonhap News Agency showed smoke rising from what appeared to be a complex of buildings.

File photo shows South and North Korean officials attending an opening ceremony of a joint liaison office in Kaesong. PHOTO: AFP

The agency said the area was part of a now-shuttered inter-Korean industrial park where the liaison office was located.

The North also said it has cut off all government and military communication channels with the South while threatening to abandon bilateral peace agreements reached during North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s three summits with Moon in 2018.

Some outside analysts believe the North, after failing to get what it wants in nuclear talks, will turn to provocation to win outside concessions because its economy has likely worsened because of persistent US-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. North Korea may also be frustrated because the sanctions prevent Seoul from breaking away from Washington to resume joint economic projects with Pyongyang.

The liaison office has been shut since late January because of coronavirus concerns. The office, reportedly built with South Korean money, was the first such office between the two Koreas since their 1945 division and was considered a symbol of Moon’s engagement policy.

Seoul’s Blue House said presidential national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to help set up Kim’s first summit with President Donald Trump in June 2018, convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the North’s destruction of the liaison office. Details weren’t immediately released.