Foreign Desk Report
PYONGYANG: North Korea on Tuesday blew up an office set up to foster better ties with South Korea in its border town of Kaesong after it threatened to take action if North Korean defectors went ahead with a campaign to send propaganda leaflets into the North.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said the liaison office, which had been closed since January over fears of the novel coronavirus, was “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion”.
Black-and-white surveillance video released by South Korea’s Ministry of Defence showed a large explosion that appeared to bring down the four-storey structure.
The blast also appeared to cause a partial collapse of a neighbouring 15-storey high-rise that had served as a residential facility for South Korean officials who staffed the liaison office.
The office, when it was operating, effectively served as an embassy for the old rivals and its destruction represents a major setback to efforts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to coax the North into cooperation. South Korea’s national security council convened an emergency meeting on Tuesday and said South Korea will sternly respond if North Korea continues to raise tensions.
The destruction of the office “broke the expectations of all people who hope for the development of inter-Korean relations and lasting peace on the peninsula”, deputy national security advisor Kim You-geun told a briefing.“We’re making clear that the North is entirely responsible for all the consequences this might cause,” he said.
Tension has been rising over recent days with North Korea threatening to cut ties with South Korea and retaliate over the propaganda leaflets, which carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including on human rights.
KCNA said the office was blown up to force “human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes”.
North Korea refers to defectors as “human scum”.
A South Korean military source told Reuters that there had been signs that North Korea was going ahead with the demolition earlier in the day, and South Korean military officials watched live surveillance imagery as the building was blown up.
The first diplomatic mission of its kind, the inter-Korean liaison office was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas.