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North Korea’s move to destroy a liaison office with South Korea follows weeks of escalating rhetoric from the reclusive nation. The destruction may signal the start of fresh provocations.
Just hours before North Korea blew up the liaison office, it said it was reviewing a plan to send troops into some areas of the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula.
On Wednesday, North Korea made clear its intentions by saying it would deploy troops into disarmed areas on its side of the border where it had joint projects with South Korea.
These are an area in the western border city of Kaesong where it had a joint factory park and the liaison office and Mount Kumgang on the east, where there was a joint resort.
Troops were moved out to make way for those projects.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, has called for months for talks and sought economic exchanges.
However, Moon hasn’t broken away from the global sanctions regime choking North Korea’s crippled economy.
So far the South Korean president has shown almost no desire to retaliate against the regime.
This would risk of derailing a pledge he made to his supporters to bring the Koreas closer together.
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That’s even as trade between the countries, which was once about 10% of the size of North Korea’s economy, has shrunk to virtually zero due to the global sanctions pushing Pyongyang for nuclear and missile tests conducted in 2017.
Kim threatened in October to tear down South Korean-built structures at a North Korean mountain resort, saying they looked like “makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area.”
The Mount Kumgang resort, built by an affiliate of South Korea’s Hyundai Group and shuttered for more than a decade, opened in 1998 as a symbol of cooperation between two countries technically still at war.
It has hotels, restaurants, shopping arcades and a performance hall.
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Moon has been pushing for it to reopen.
Since 2019, North Korea has tested several types of short-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting all parts of South Korea, including US military bases.
These solid-fuel missiles are among the new weapons rolled out under Kim and are easier to hide and deploy than his older rockets.
The arsenal includes the nuclear-capable KN-23 that’s designed to avoid US interceptors on the peninsula. Kim could speed up his short-range weapons program to pressure Seoul, even as he holds fire on launching longer-range missiles.
This is the highest-risk option but one North Korea has taken.
South Korea has vowed to respond to further provocation from North Korea, though President Moon Jae-in has expressed hope that relations can be salvaged.
A spokesman from the Blue House in Seoul said: “The government expresses strong regret over North Korea’s unilateral detonation of the inter-Korean liaison office building.
“We sternly warn that we will strongly respond to it if North Korea takes any action that further worsens the situation.
“The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”
The office was the first South Korean presence north of the border since the end of the Korean War.
According to the Times, it had been closed since January as a coronavirus precaution.
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim, said in a Sunday statement: “We will soon take a next action. Before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”
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