Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

North Korea suspends military plans against South

Kim Jong-un calls off retaliation against Seoul over anti-Pyongyang activism

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone on April 27, 2018. AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone on April 27, 2018. AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has suspended plans for military action against the South, state media reported on Wednesday in a sudden easing of tensions after Pyongyang blew up a liaison office.

In recent weeks, Pyongyang has repeatedly criticised Seoul over anti-North leaflets defectors based in the South send across the border – usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

Last week it blew up a liaison office on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean rapprochement, while its military said it would take measures against the South.

The moves included re-entering areas of the North that it had withdrawn from as part of inter-Korean projects, restoring guard posts in the Demilitarised Zone that forms the border, and stepping up exercises.

But the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Mr Kim on Tuesday presided over a Central Military Commission meeting that "suspended the military action plans against the south".

It did not elaborate.

The North also began removing loudspeakers on Wednesday from border areas, which they had started setting up two days ago to broadcast anti-South propaganda, the South's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.

The apparently conciliatory moves by Pyongyang are unusual, and come after analysts said it was seeking to manufacture a crisis on the peninsula in an effort to extract concessions.

Seoul had retorted with uncharacteristically stern criticism to Pyongyang's attack on the liaison office and harsh condemnation of President Moon Jae-in by Mr Kim's sister Kim Yo-jong, saying it will "no longer tolerate" the North's "unreasonable acts and words".

But the nuclear-armed North "is by no means done threatening South Korea or bolstering its so-called deterrent", Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said.

"The Kim regime had domestic political boxes to check and may be presently satisfied with public unity."

Inter-Korean relations have been in a deep freeze following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump early last year over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a easing of sanctions.

The impoverished country is subject to UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programmes.

Since early June, Kim Yo-jong has been the face of Pyongyang's highly aggressive stance towards the South over anti-North leaflets.

The North blew up the liaison office after she warned days before that it would soon be seen "completely collapsed", and later she called the South's president – who has long favoured engagement with Pyongyang – "disgusting" and apparently "insane".

Pyongyang has also said it has millions of anti-Seoul propaganda leaflets ready to send to the South as retaliation.

"Having someone else speak for the regime also gives Kim Jong Un the option of adjusting course," said Prof Easley.

"He may do so in search of external concessions or because his military needs more time to implement the next provocation."

Updated: June 24, 2020 09:23 AM

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