North Korea cuts communication with the South

North Korea says the decision is a response to Seoul’s failure to act against anti-Pyongyang activities across the border

epa08474134 A visitor takes a pictures of the ribbons of peace during an ancestor-memorial service in Imjingak Park, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Paju, Gyeonggi-do Province, South Korea, 09 June 2020. North Korea announced on 09 June its decision to disconnect all inter-Korean communications lines, citing anti-Pyongyang leaflets recently sent via balloons by North Korean defectors across the border.  EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN
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North Korea is severing all official communication links with the South, it announced on Tuesday, in a move analysts said was aimed at manufacturing a crisis on the divided peninsula.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said all cross-border communication lines would be cut off at noon in the “the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things”.

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.

Experts say the decision could signal Pyongyang has grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.

North Korea has cut communications in the past – not replying to South Korean phone calls or faxes – and then restored those channels when tension eased. The North has been accused at times of deliberately creating tension to bolster internal unity or to signal its frustration over a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Washington.

In its announcement, North Korea said Tuesday’s move was a response to South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border.

“The South Korean authorities connived at the hostile acts against (North Korea) by the riff-raff while trying to dodge heavy responsibility with nasty excuses,” KCNA said.

Inter-Korean ties are at a standstill, despite three summits between the North's leader Kim Jong-un and the South's President Moon Jae-in in 2018.

The immediate effect of cutting communications 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 guard post in the demilitarised zone that divides the peninsula.

Pyongyang "will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line" between North and South from noon on Tuesday, KCNA 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.

"We have reached a 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," KCNA said, describing Seoul as an "enemy".

The two sides remain technically at war after the 1953 armistice ended fighting but was never replaced with a peace treaty.

Pyongyang is subject to UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programmes but has carried out a series of tests in recent months – often describing them as launch rocket systems, although Japan and the US have called them ballistic missiles.