South Korea has stationed tanks on the border with the North, threatening a strong reaction after Kim Jong-un’s regime blew up an embassy building.
Tensions are high on the peninsula after the office – set up to encourage better relations between the neighbours – was “ruined” in a “terrific explosion”.
It has led to fears of military clashes in the heavily guarded Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the neighbours, who are technically still at war, after the North said its troops were prepared to enter the area.
South Korean troops are amassing after the attack on the inter-Korea liaison office in the border town of Kaesong this morning.
The North fired its weapons in a rage after anti-Kim Jong-un leaflets were distributed by defectors branded “human scum” by the secretive state.
South Korea’s deputy director of the national security office, Kim You-geun, said: “The government expresses strong regret over North Korea’s unilateral detonation of the inter-Korean liaison office building.
“We sternly warn that we will strongly respond to it if North Korea takes any action that further worsens the situation.”
And he told a briefing that the destruction of the office “broke the expectations of all people who hope for the development of inter-Korean relations and lasting peace on the peninsula”.
He also branded the destruction of the facility, which has been in use since 2018, as a “betrayal”.
South Korean vice unification minister Suh Ho, who co-headed the liaison office, called the demolition “unprecedented in inter-Korean relations” and a “nonsensical act.”
It had been closed since January as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Surveillance video released by Seoul’s Ministry of Defence showed a large explosion that appeared to bring down the four-storey structure.
The explosion was heard at just before 2.50pm local time on Tuesday and it was followed by a plume of smoke.
It came amid fears of military conflict along the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) after the Kim regime threatened to take action if North Korean defectors went ahead with a campaign to send propaganda leaflets into the North.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said the liaison office, which had been closed since January over fears of the novel coronavirus, was “tragically ruined with a terrific explosion”.
It is a setback in efforts to foster co-operation between the North and South.
The act of aggression also appears to be a further blow to US President Donald Trump’s hopes of persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and open up to the outside world.
“We are aware that North Korea destroyed the liaison office in Kaesong and remain in close coordination with our Republic of Korea allies,” a senior US administration official told Reuters.
It is thought that the US will push China for sanctions against China to be enforced.
Russia said it was concerned about the situation on the Korean peninsula and called for restraint from all sides.
North Korea said the office was blown up to force “human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes”.
Several defector-led groups, which North Korea refers to as “human scum”, have regularly sent flyers over the border, together with food, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news into North Korea, usually by balloon or in bottles by river.