SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has confirmed it destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office on Tuesday, as it continued to dial up pressure against rival South Korea amid stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the North destroyed the office to correspond with the “mindset of the enraged people to surely force 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 news agency did not detail how the destruction of the office was carried out, but said it was “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion.”
The North, which has a long track record of pressuring South Korea when it fails to extract concessions from the United States, has repeatedly bashed the South in recent weeks over declining bilateral relations and its inability to stop leafleting by defectors and activists.
The detonation of the office came hours after the North’s military threatened to move back into zones that were demilitarized under inter-Korean peace agreements, which experts say could create security threats for the South along the land and sea borders.
Photos from Yonhap News Agency showed smoke rising from what appeared to be a complex of buildings. The agency said the area was part of a now-shuttered industrial park where the liaison office was located.
North Korea had earlier threatened to demolish the office as it stepped up its fiery rhetoric over Seoul’s failure to stop activists from flying propaganda leaflets across the border. Some experts say North Korea is expressing its frustration because Seoul is unable to resume joint economic projects due to U.S.-led sanctions.
On Saturday night, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea's leader, warned that Seoul will soon witness “a tragic scene of the useless North-South liaison office (in North Korea) being completely collapsed.” She also said she would leave to North Korea’s military the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea.
In 2018, the rival Koreas opened their first liaison office at Kaesong to facilitate better communication and exchanges since their division at the end of the World War II in 1945. When the office opened, relations between the Koreas flourished after North Korea entered talks on its nuclear weapons program.
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea's military threatened to move back into zones that were demilitarized under inter-Korean peace agreements. The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said it’s reviewing a ruling party recommendation to advance into unspecified border areas that had been demilitarized under agreements with the South, which would “turn the front line into a fortress.”
While it wasn’t immediately clear what actions North Korea’s military might take against the South, the North has threatened to abandon a bilateral military agreement reached in 2018 to reduce tensions across the border.
Inter-Korean relations began strained since the breakdown of a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Vietnam in early 2019. That summit fell apart because of disputes over how much sanctions should be lifted in return for Kim’s dismantling his main nuclear complex.
Kim later vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal, introduce a new strategic weapon and overcome the U.S.-led sanctions that he said “stifles” his country’s economy.