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Growing tensions

North Korea cuts all communications with Seoul as leaflet row deepens

South Korean soldiers patrolling along a barbed wire fence at the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea
South Korean soldiers patrolling along a barbed wire fence at the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea AFP/File

North Korea has announced a complete cut of communication links with South Korea from noon Tuesday. This follows growing anger in the northern capital at the failure of the authorities in Seoul to stop activists from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the tense border between the two nations.

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Responding to the northern threat, South Korea's government repeated its determination to work toward "restoring peace on the peninsula." 

But the official North Korean news agency, KCNA, said that the authorities in Seoul were “dodging responsibility with nasty excuses,” while “angering all the people” living north of the border by their “treacherous and cunning behavior”.       

Relations between the Koreas have become increasingly tense after negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear program stalled. 

The KCNA said all cross-border communication lines will be cut as “the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact with South Korea.”

According to the official statement, the decision was made by Kim Yo-jong, sister of leader Kim Jong-un, and by Kim Yong-chol, a high-ranking politician, formerly in charge of intelligence. 

Kim Yo Jong -- the influential younger sister of Kim Jong Un and a key adviser to the North Korean leader -- has been part of the decision-making on cutting communications with South Korea
Kim Yo Jong -- the influential younger sister of Kim Jong Un and a key adviser to the North Korean leader -- has been part of the decision-making on cutting communications with South Korea POOL/AFP/File

"They aroused our dismay"

“We have reached the conclusion that there is no need to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay,” says the statement.

South Korean conservative activists, including North Korean defectors living in the South, have floated huge balloons into North Korea, carrying leaflets criticising Kim Jong-un for his nuclear ambitions and human rights record.

Last week, Kim Yo-jong called the defectors “human scum” and “mongrel dogs” as the North threatened to permanently shut down a liaison office and a jointly-run factory park, as well as nullify a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement intended to reduce tensions. 

Detailing Tuesday’s decision, the KCNA said that communication links between North and South, “which have been maintained through the north-south joint liaison office,” as well as an inter-Korean trial communication line and the hotline between the offices of North Korea’s Communist Party and the Blue House in Chongwadae, the South’s presidential palace, will be cut “from 12:00 on June 9, 2020”.

The official announcement of the communications blackout makes no mention of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. Kim chaired a meeting of the politburo of the Korean Workers' Party over the weekend, but official reporting on this focused on economic matters. 

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