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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Seoul’s unification minister resigns over N. Korea tensions

The Minister for reunification of South Korea has resigned as inter-Korean tensions balloon. The North has been increasingly vitriolic towards the South, and hopes for rapprochement are rapidly being dashed as the North marches on with severing its links with the South.

South Korea’s Unification Minister, its point man for relations with the North, left the office on Friday over heightened tensions on the peninsula, days after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with the South. Seoul’s unification minister resigns amid heightened tensions between the two Koreas, amid the North blaming the South for the proliferation of anti-Kim leaflets in its territory.

President Moon Jae-in “accepted Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul’s offer to resign”, the presidential Blue House said in a statement, without giving further details.

Seoul’s unification minister resigns as North bulldozes links with South

Kim had offered to step down on Wednesday, a day after the North demolished the liaison office, saying he “takes responsibility” for the worsening of inter-Korean relations.

Since early June, North Korea has issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of the South over anti-Pyongyang leaflets, which defectors send regularly, usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

Read more: Korea military deal in danger as North Korea threatens withdrawal

Analysts say the North may be seeking to manufacture a crisis to increase pressure on the South to extract concessions.

On Tuesday it reduced the building on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean rapprochement to rubble, and the following day threatened to bolster its military presence in and around the Demilitarized Zone.

What is the reason for the ongoing Korean tension?

The latest controversy is an immediate result of South Korea allowing defectors from the North fly anti-Kim leaflets into North Korea. This has been harshly received in North Korean quarters, with the powerful sister of Kim Jong Un earlier threatening to teach the South a lesson.

Since Pyongyang condemned the leaflet launches — usually attached to hot air balloons or floated in bottles — the Unification ministry has filed a police complaint against two defector groups and warned of a “thorough crackdown” against activists.

Earlier, the left-leaning Moon, President of South Korea, urged the North not to “close the window of dialogue”.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after Korean War hostilities ended with an armistice in 1953 that was never replaced with a peace treaty.

Read more: North Korea will end South liaison office over anti-Kim leaflets

Last week the North criticised Trump in a stinging denunciation of the US on the second anniversary of the Singapore summit, with its foreign minister Ri Son Gwon accusing Washington of seeking regime change.

US diplomats insist that they believe Kim promised in Singapore to give up his nuclear arsenal, something Pyongyang has taken no steps to do.

The North is under multiple international sanctions over its banned weapons programmes.

It believes it deserves to be rewarded for its moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and the disabling of its atomic test site, along with the return of jailed US citizens and remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War.

“Nothing is more hypocritical than an empty promise,” Ri said in his statement, carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Sejong Institute’s Center for North Korean Studies, said: “North Korea is frustrated that the South has failed to offer an alternative plan to revive the US-North talks, let alone create a right atmosphere for the revival.

“It has concluded the South has failed as a mediator in the process.”

Inter-Korean relations on the brink as Seoul’s unification minister resigns

Inter-Korean relations have been in deep freeze for months, following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

That meeting foundered on what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

A pro-engagement academic and a longtime confidant of Moon, Kim was appointed to the post in March last year, days after the Hanoi meeting.

Reports say John Bolton, the former US national security advisor, criticised Moon in his new memoir for encouraging both Kim and Trump to have unrealistic expectations of the other.

Read more: North Korea slams Pompeo and says will ‘walk our way’

Moon, who has also long backed engagement with the North, has been called unrealistic by his critics for his dovish approach.

On Monday the left-leaning president gave a speech calling for inter-Korean dialogue and stressing the importance of peace on the peninsula.

But Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, called the speech “disgusting” and “shameless and impudent”, adding Moon “seems to be insane though he appears to be normal outwardly”.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after hostilities in the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953 but not a peace treaty.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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