Seoul’s unification minister resigns over North Korea tensions

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s Unification Minister, its point man for relations with the North, stepped down yesterday over heightened tensions on the peninsula, days after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with the South.

President Moon Jae-in “accepted Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul’s offer to resign”, the presidential Blue House said in a statement, after warning it will “no longer tolerate” the North’s unreasonable behaviour in an unusually stern criticism earlier this week.

Kim had offered to leave on Wednesday, a day after the North demolished the liaison office, saying he “takes responsibility” for the worsening of inter-Korean relations.

The North’s official KCNA news agency again blamed the South for the rising tensions yesterday, calling Seoul’s condemnation of its blowing up of the office “a guilty party filing the suit first”.

“All measures taken by us are punishments” that the South “deserves for their crimes”, KCNA said in the commentary.

In his resignation statement, Kim expressed hope that his departure “will be a chance to pause for a bit”.

“One can never overcome hatred with hatred,” he told reporters, adding, “There are many wounds to heal in inter-Korean relations… We have to stop here.”

Since early June, North Korea has issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of the South over anti-Pyongyang leaflets, which defectors send regularly, usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

Analysts said the North may be seeking to manufacture a crisis to increase pressure on the South to extract concessions.

On Tuesday it reduced the building on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean rapprochement to rubble, and the following day threatened to bolster its military presence in and around the Demilitarized Zone.