North, South Korea in conflict again

South Korean unification minister resigns over North Korea tension

Photo: AP South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul leaves the government complex in Seoul, South Korea

This week the tensions in the relationship between North and South Korea escalated after Pyongyang blew up its joint liaison office with the South, located in the border town of Kaesong. The building of the office was South Korea's first permanent official representation in the North since 1953. This demolition marked Pyongyang's first direct actions against its southern neighbour after numerous threats which were made in the last few weeks.

Tensions also led to the resignation of South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul - country's point man for relations with the North.

This time the reason for enmity between the two countries was the dissemination of flyers, one-dollar banknotes, mini radios and USB sticks with recorded South Korean drama and news. The spread of those items was carried out by North Korean deserters, often by means of a balloon over the border or filling bottles by the riverside. The deserter groups found their actions “necessary humanitarian aid”. However, Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened it will suspend ties with South Korea and retaliate, mainly because of the leaflets which criticise the country's leader Kim Jong Un.

Earlier this month, North Korea broke off its most important communication channels with the South Korean military, diplomats, as well as with President Moon Jae-in himself, in order to demonstrate the North's seriousness on these issues. Now, Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong - a high-level official of the ruling Workers' Party, has stated that she has ordered the military to get ready for unspecified “actions”.

Blowing up the liaison office was ordered also by her. State media confirmed that the North Korean army was ordered to undertake retaliatory action if the campaign for sending propaganda leaflets went on. The General Staff Department (GSD) of the Korean People's Army (KPA) also stated that it was considering an “action plan” for rebuilding areas which had been demilitarised under the 2018 Inter-Korean Military Pact and for “turning the front line into a fortress”.

Willing to improve its relationship with the North, the South Korean government has promised legal actions against two of the deserter groups on the pretext that their supplies “fuel cross-border tensions, putting people who live near the border at risk and causing environmental damage”.

However, another group of deserters announced that they were preparing a new batch of plastic bottles filled with rice, medicines and protective masks for sending to North Korea on Sunday, by throwing them into the sea near the border.

“Whatever North Korea decides, we will continue to help the people in need, the elderly people and the victims of the regime,” said Park Jung Oh, 61, a North Korean defector who heads the group, called Kuensaem.

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