North Korea urged to rein in rhetoric after military threats spark alarm in South Korea

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Pyongyang has threatened to cut all ties with Seoul and also warned it is prepared take military action against its neighbour as relations nosedive. Simmering tensions have reached boiling point amid growing fears of armed provocation from the North and its apparent unwillingness to re-engage in stalled talks to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes.

North Korea should not cut communications, raise tension and try to go back to the past era of confrontation

Moon Jae-in

North Korean state media has published threats to sever ties with the South and hinted at the possibility of closing a joint liaison office in the North.

The recent sabre-rattling and increasingly hostile rhetoric are part of North Korea’s angry backlash against a campaign by defectors to drop anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on Kim to refrain from adding to the renewed tensions and return to dialogue.

President Moon said: “The promises of peace on the Korean peninsula that Chairman Kim Jong-un made before our 80 million people cannot be turned back.

“North Korea should not cut communications, raise tension and try to go back to the past era of confrontation.

“I hope it will resolve uncomfortable, difficult problems through communications and cooperation.”

The president’s remarks came as South Korea marked the 20th anniversary of the first summit between the two nations which pledged to step up dialogue and cooperation.

At their own first summit in 2018, Mr Moon and Kim signed a declaration to work for a “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” and cease “all hostile acts”.

But the North cut hotlines with its neighbour last week and vowed to suspend all contact if Seoul did not take action to stop the defectors’s groups from sending sending leaflets and other material.

In a separate anniversary message, Mr Moon said: “I also regret that North Korea-US and inter-Korean relations have not made progress as expected.

“But what’s most important is trust, which the South and North should build through constant dialogue.”

South Korea’s top security officials convened an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss responses to the recent threats from across the border.

The meeting presided over by Chung Eui-yong, director of national security at the presidential office, reviewed the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula as well as Seoul’s response to the recent harsh rhetoric.

The emergency meeting came after Kim Yo-jong, Kim’s powerful younger sister and potential successor, caused alarm in Seoul with a fiery statement.

She said: “By exercising my power authorized by the Supreme Leader, our Party and the state, I gave an instruction to the department in charge of the affairs with the enemy to decisively carry out the next action.”

Kim Yo-jong said Pyongyang had been betrayed and misled by Seoul’s prediction that Washington would lift some sanctions in exchange for North Korea closing its nuclear reactor site and is upset by the leaflets and continued US-South Korea military drills continue.

She said: “They’re upset that Seoul has done nothing to change the environment and is again telling Seoul to stay out of its nuclear talks with Washington.”

Her statement, which did not say what the next action could be, came days after South Korea took legal action against defectors who have been sending material such as rice and anti-North leaflets, usually by balloon over the heavily fortified border or in bottles by sea.

As part of the effort to improve ties with the North, the South Korean government has sought to discourage the leaflet and rice campaigns, and defectors have complained of pressure to avoid criticism of Pyongyang.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry and Defence Ministry each released statements asking the North to honour inter-Korean agreements reached in the past.

The Unification Ministry said: “The South and the North should try to honour all inter-Korean agreements reached.”

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The Defence Ministry said the military is ready to respond to “all situations” and warned it was closely monitoring moves by the North Korean military.

Analysts say North Korea appears to be using the leaflet issue to increase pressure on South Korea amid the stalled denuclearisation talks.

Duyeon Kim, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based independent non-profit organisation, said: “The leaflets are an excuse or justification to raise the ante, manufacture a crisis, and bully Seoul to get what it wants.”

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