North Korea is severing all official communication links with the South, it announced Tuesday in a move analysts said was aimed at manufacturing a crisis on the divided peninsula.
Since last week the North has issued a series of vitriolic denunciations of the South over activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border — something defectors do on a regular basis.
In recent days authorities in the North have organised large-scale rallies across the country of citizens pledging their support, with inter-Korean ties at a standstill despite three summits between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in in 2018.
Tuesday’s move cuts all official communication links between the two sides, but the immediate effect will be limited — Pyongyang has refused to engage with Seoul for months, with few if any conversations on the lines aside from test calls.
The latest development comes just three days before the two-year anniversary of a landmark summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore.
Negotiations over the North’s nuclear programme have been deadlocked since the collapse of a second meeting in Hanoi last year over what the North would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
The impasse has left Pyongyang increasingly frustrated over the lack of concessions and analysts say it has taken no substantive steps towards giving up its weapons.
It has increasingly turned its anger towards Seoul rather than Washington, carrying out a series of weapons tests and other provocations in recent months — including last month shooting at a Southern guardpost in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.
Pyongyang “will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line” between North and South from noon on Tuesday, the official Korean Central News Agency said, along with military hotlines and a communication link between the headquarters of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party and the South’s presidential office.
Hotline calls by the South to the North rang unanswered as the deadline expired, Seoul’s unification ministry said.
The decision was taken by Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s sister and key adviser, and ruling party vice chairman Kim Yong Chol, KCNA said, in an explicit demonstration of the sibling’s increasing authority in government.
Last week she issued a statement threatening to scrap a military pact with the South and close a liaison office — where activities have already been suspended for months due to the coronavirus outbreak.
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