SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Tuesday it will cut off all communication channels with South Korea as it escalates its pressure on the South for failing to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
The North Korean warning came as relations between the two Koreas have been strained amid a prolonged deadlock in broader nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington. Some experts say North Korea may be deliberately creating tensions to bolster internal unity or launch bigger provocation in the face of persistent U.S.-led sanctions.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that all cross-border communication lines will be cut off at Tuesday noon. It said it will be “the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things.”
“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,” it said. “They should be forced to pay dearly for this.”
Since last week, North Korea has increasingly expressed its anger over the leafleting by threatening to permanently shut down a liaison office with South Korea and a jointly run factory park, as well as nullify a 2018 inter-Korean tension-reduction agreement. North Korean citizens have also staged a series of mass anti-Seoul public rallies, something the North typically organizes in times of tensions with the outside world.
North Korea has in recent months suspended virtually all cooperation with South Korea as its nuclear negotiations with the United States remains stalemated since the breakdown of a summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in early 2019. A main sticking point in the U.S.-North Korea diplomacy is a U.S. refusal to lift much of crippling international sanctions on North Korea in return for limited denuclearization steps.
North Korea has slammed South Korea for failing to break away from Washington and for not restoring massive joint economic projects held up by U.S.-led sanctions. Inter-Korean relations flourished in 2018, when Kim entered talks on the future of his nuclear weapons.
South Korea had no immediate response to the North Korean announcement. But it has recently said it would push for new legal steps to ban activists from launching leaflets in an attempt to save faltering ties with North Korea. But the North has countered the South Korean response lacks sincerity.
The leafleting has been a long-running source of tensions between the two Koreas. In recent years, North Korean defectors and conservative activists have floated huge balloons carrying leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and abysmal human rights record. The North, which bristles at any outside attempt to undermine the Kim leadership, has often made a furious response to the South Korean government for failing to stop them . In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire at propaganda balloons flying toward their territory, triggering an exchange of fire that caused no known casualities.
South Korea has typically let activists launch such balloons, citing their rights to exercise freedom of speech, but it sometimes sent police officers to stop them from floating leaflets in times of tensions with North Korea.