US, EU & Russia all call for restraint as North Korea blows up South Korean liaison office in dangerous provocation

North Korea on Tuesday blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border, , triggering broad international condemnation after days of virulent rhetoric from Pyongyang.

Confirming the inccident, the South Korean Ministry of Unity announced that “North Korea detonated the Inter-Korean Liaison Office in Kaesong.” According to the South Korea-based Yonhap News Agency, the Unification Ministry said that “North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong at 2:49 P.M.,” without further details.

The latest provocation and demolition came after Kim Yo Jong -- the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- said at the weekend the "useless north-south joint liaison office" would soon be seen "completely collapsed".

Footage of the explosion released by Seoul showed a blast rolling across several buildings just across the border in Kaesong as clouds of smoke rose into the sky.

In its first move, the South Korean army announced that it had raised its alert level and level of surveillance over North Korea, after the liaison office in Kaesong was bombed. 

The South Korean agency previously announced that explosions and smoke were heard in the Kaesong region of North Korea.

“The smoke was accompanied by the sound of an explosion from the Kaesong Industrial Zone this afternoon,” the agency quoted a military source as saying, adding that “North Korea is likely to blow up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.”

The General Staff of the North Korea Army announced that it is studying the possibility of deploying forces in the DMZ, indicating that the army will implement “immediately and continuously”, any decision and decree of the party and the government.

In a statement last Saturday, Kim Yo-jung, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, said that her army would be entitled to take the next step against the South in the latest series of threats the North has made in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets, which South Korean activists sent across the border.

The US, European Union and Russia all called for restraint.

A State Department spokesperson said Washington urges the North to "refrain from further counterproductive actions", while the Kremlin called the escalation a "concern' and said it would be monitoring closely.

The EU warned Pyongyang against taking further "provocative and damaging steps".

The liaison office -- in a dormant industrial zone where Southern companies once employed Northern workers -- was opened in September 2018, days before the South's President Moon Jae-in flew to Pyongyang for his third summit with Kim.

Around 20 officials from each side were stationed at the office during subsequent months. But inter-Korean relations soured following the collapse of the Hanoi summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in February last year over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return.

Operations at the office were suspended in January because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Source: Yonhap/AFP

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