North Korea said Tuesday it would cut off all communication channels with South Korea as it intensifies its pressure on the South for failing to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their tense border.
The North Korean warning came as relations between the Koreas have been wrenched amid a continued deadlock in broader nuclear diplomacy among Pyongyang and Washington. Some experts say North Korea may be independently creating tensions to reinforce internal unity or launch a greater instigation in the light of determined U.S.-led sanctions.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency announced all cross-border communication lines would be cut off at noon. It said it would be “the first move of the determination to entirely shut down all contact medians with South Korea and get rid of undesirable things.”
It stated the decision was made by Kim Yo Jong, the dominant sister of leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Chol, a former hard-line military intelligence chief who Seoul thinks was behind two 2010 attacks that killed 50 South Koreans.
“The South Korean officials connived at the hostile actions against (North Korea) by the riff-raff while attempting to avoid heavy responsibility with nasty excuses,” KCNA said. “They should be forced to pay sincerely for this.”
South Korean conventional activists, including North Korean defectors living in the South, for years, have floated huge balloons into North Korea that bear leaflets reprimanding Kim Jong Un over his nuclear hopes and abysmal human rights record. The leafleting has long been a cause of tensions within the Koreas since the North bristles at any effort to weaken the Kim leadership.
Closing week, Kim Yo Jong addressed the defectors “human scum” and “mongrel dogs” in reaction to current leafleting as the North also threatened to lastingly shut down a liaison office and a jointly run factory park, as well as nullify a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement that had aimed to reduce tensions.
North Korean citizens have also participated in a series of mass rallies opposing the Seoul government, activities the North typically organizes in times of tensions with the outside world.
South Korea’s liberal government had no immediate response to the North Korean announcement. It has lately said it would push for legal bans on launching leaflets, but the North has told the South Korean answer lacks honesty.
South Korean conservatives have recommended their government to get harder on North Korea and uphold their constitutional rights to free speech. South Korea has generally let activists launch such balloons, but it had sometimes sent police officers to stop them when North Korean warnings seemed to be serious. In 2014, North Korean troops started the fire at propaganda balloons flying near their territory, triggering an exchange of fire that caused no known causalities.
The two Koreas have several phone and fax-like hotline channels across the border as they bar ordinary citizens from exchange telephone calls, letters and emails. Among them is a hotline between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which was established after their summit in 2018 but has never been publicly used by the leaders.
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