North Korea is taking steps to shut down all communication with South Korea after its leaders demanded defectors stopped sending information back home.
The secretive country has lashed out at South Korea, threatening to close an inter-Korean liaison office and all hotlines between them, after material and leaflets were reportedly sneaked across the border.
Top government officials in North Korea, including leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, said “that the work towards the South should thoroughly turn into the one against an enemy,” the state-run news agency KCNA said.
North Korean officials did not answer routine daily calls to the liaison office, nor calls on military hotlines, a South Korean defence ministry spokeswoman told a briefing.
On Monday, although two daily calls are usually made, only one was answered.
Kim Jong Un reportedly spoke at the 13th Political Bureau meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea
The routine calls between South and North Korea should be maintained as they are basic means of communication, the South’s unification ministry said.
The ministry said it will continue to follow the agreed principles and strive for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
The decision to cut communications marks a setback in relations amid efforts to try and persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief on tough international sanctions.
North Korea’s youth and students wearing protective face masks at a rally on June 6 (Image: REUTERS)
Students and youths hold a banner reading: ‘Let us burn out the traitorous group who precipitate their self-ruin!’ (Image: AFP via Getty Images)
The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
Analysts said the move is likely about more than the defectors, as North Korea is under increasing economic pressure as the coronavirus crisis and international sanctions take their toll.
“North Korea is in a much more dire situation than we think,” said Choo Jae-woo, a professor at Kyung Hee University.
“I think they are trying to squeeze something out of the South.”
Cutting communications is “a well-worn play for Pyongyang,” but one that can be dangerous, Daniel Wertz, of the US-based National Committee on North Korea, said on Twitter.
“Regular communication channels are needed most during a crisis, and for that reason North Korea cuts them off to create an atmosphere of heightened risk,” he said.
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