16 June 2020
North Korea destroyed the Inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the border with South Korea on Tuesday. Some considered the act a show of anger that calls for answers from the United States and South Korea. It comes as nuclear talks between the North and the U.S. have mostly stopped.
The building was empty, and the North had made clear plans to destroy it. The move, however, is still provocative. It is also a serious problem for efforts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to negotiate with the North.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said the country destroyed the office because its "enraged people" want to "force (the) human scum... to pay dearly for their crimes."
South Korean experts believe the statement is talking about North Korean defectors who are active in anti-North Korea propaganda.
The news agency did not give details about how the office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong was destroyed.
South Korea's government later released military video showing clouds of rising smoke. The liaison office was located at a now-closed industrial area near the border between the two Koreas.
South Korea issued a statement expressing "strong regret" over the destruction of the building. It also warned of a strong reaction if North Korea continues to hurt relations.
The statement was released following an emergency National Security Council meeting. It said the destruction was "an act that betrays hopes for an improvement in South-North Korean relations and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula."
The North said last week that it was cutting off all government and military communication with the South. It also threatened to end peace agreements it had reached during North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's three meetings with Moon in 2018.
Some outside experts believe the North's economy is getting worse because of US-led restrictions and the effects of the coronavirus. As a result, it is using provocative actions to push for an easing of the sanctions.
South Korea's answer to Tuesday's destruction was strong compared to past provocations.
The liaison office has been unoccupied since late January because of the coronavirus. The office was opened in September 2018 to aid communication between North Korea and South Korea. It was considered an important part of Moon's policy of reconciliation.
On Saturday night, the sister of the North Korean leader warned that Seoul would see the liaison office "being completely collapsed." Kim Yo Jong also said she would leave North Korea's military to "take the next step."
On Monday, Moon urged North Korea to stop creating problems and return to talks. He said the two Koreas must not cancel the 2018 inter-Korean summit deals.
Leif-Eric Easley is a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. He said it is hard to see how the act of destruction "will help the Kim regime get what it wants from the world, but clearly such images will be used for...propaganda."
Inter-Korean relations have been strained since the breakdown of a second summit between Kim and Trump in Vietnam in early 2019. Disputes over what restrictions would be lifted in return for North Korea closing its main nuclear complex caused the talks to fail.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
liaison - adj. meeting or communicating
provocative - adj. an act meant to cause a reaction
enrage - v. to make very angry
scum - n. the remains of soap and dirt
betray - v. to be disloyal
reconciliation - n. a meeting of two former enemies
summit - n. a meeting of world leaders to discuss international relations