North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and a lockdown in a border town after a person suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus returned from South Korea after illegally crossing the border, state media said on Sunday. If confirmed, it would be the first case officially acknowledged by North Korean authorities. Kim convened an emergency politburo meeting in response to what he called a ‘critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country’, the North's KCNA state news reported. A person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the fortified border that divides the two Koreas to the town of Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, KCNA reported. ‘An emergency event happened in Kaesong City where a runaway who went to the south three years ago, a person who is suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus returned on July 19 after illegally crossing the demarcation line,’ KCNA said. KCNA did not say if the person had been tested, but said an ‘uncertain result was made from several medical check-ups of the secretion of that person's upper respiratory organ and blood’, prompting officials to quarantine the person and investigate anyone he may have been in contact with. One analyst said the announcement was important, not only because North Korea was for the first time reporting a suspected coronavirus case but also because it suggested it was appealing for help. ‘It's an ice-breaking moment for North Korea to admit a case,’ said Choo Jae-woo, a professor at Kyung Hee University. ‘It could be reaching out to the world for help. Perhaps for humanitarian assistance.’ North Korea is under huge economic pressure because of international sanctions over its nuclear programme. Cho Han-bum, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said it was significant that North Korea was reporting its first suspected coronavirus case was imported. ‘North Korea is in such a dire situation, where they can't even finish building the Pyongyang General Hospital on time. Pointing the blame at an 'imported case' from South Korea, the North can use this as a way to openly accept aid from the South,’ Cho said. KCNA did not elaborate on how the ‘runaway’ had crossed one of the world's most heavily guarded borders but said the incident was being investigated and the military unit responsible would face ‘severe punishment’. South Korean officials were checking to see if a defector had indeed crossed back into the North this month, the South's Yonhap news agency reported. North Korea has received thousands of coronavirus testing kits from Russia and other countries and imposed strict border closures. Thousands of people in North Korea were also quarantined as it took precautions to prevent a coronavirus outbreak but restrictions had recently been eased.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday urged the Maldives to drop charges against 80 migrant workers arrested for demanding their unpaid wages in a country otherwise known for its upmarket tourism. The New York-based group said authorities detained the foreign workers during separate demonstrations against inhumane living conditions and work without pay. ‘The authorities should drop charges and release all those held for engaging in peaceful protest, and address allegations of human trafficking and other abuses...,’ HRW said in a statement. Workers in the construction sector had not been paid even before the country went into coronavirus lockdown in March, according to officials. Sporadic clashes erupted since May. Bangladeshi worker Mohammad Mohsin told AFP by phone that clashes with police broke out two weeks ago as they had not been paid for six months. ‘Our families are dying at home starving and being hunted by loan sharks,’ Mohsin said, referring to many borrowing money to travel to the Maldives in search of what they believed would be well-paid jobs. Police confirmed they arrested 41 migrant workers at Hulhumale, just outside the capital on July 13. There had been several other arrests elsewhere bringing the total number detained to just over 80. HRW said Male was invoking national security and banning protests to deflect from its failure to curb abuses against migrant workers. ‘Instead of suppressing protests, Maldives authorities should address and remedy the violations of migrant workers' rights that are spurring people to the streets,’ HRW director Patricia Gossman said. Police said they advised workers ‘not to resort to violence in the name of industrial conflicts.’ There was no immediate government reaction to the latest HRW statement, but responding to concerns earlier this month, the Maldivian foreign ministry said it acknowledged the ‘unjust treatment’ of foreign workers in the nation of 340,000 people. ‘The government accepts significant reform is required to redress these grievances... (but incidences) where individuals have resorted to violence have been deeply alarming, and will not be further tolerated,’ it said. The atoll nation which is better known as a hotspot for well-heeled honeymooners closed its international borders in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus which has infected 3,175 and killed 15. The majority of infections have been among Bangladeshi workers who often live in squalid conditions on the highly congested capital island. The Maldives reopened its international borders to tourists on July 15 as the country lifted most of its lockdown measures.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday the release of five South Korean citizens kidnapped by an armed group in Benin's territorial waters in West Africa. The ministry said, in a statement, that the five South Koreans were released in southern Nigeria on Friday, about a month after they were kidnapped in waters, some 111 km south of the Cotonou port in Benin. On June 24, an armed group attacked a fishing vessel flying the Ghanaian flag, with 30 people on board and its crew members. The attackers kidnapped six crew members, including five South Koreans and one Ghanaian. (QNA)
South Korea’s first-ever military communications satellite has been successfully launched by private operator SpaceX, Seoul said yesterday, as it looks to build up its defence capabilities. The ANASIS-II is intended to enhance the South’s ability to defend itself against the nuclear-armed North, which invaded in 1950. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellite blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said in a statement. SpaceX confirmed the satellite deployed about 32 minutes after lift-off, on Monday afternoon local time. DAPA said the launch made South Korea the 10th country in the world to own a military-only communications satellite, which will provide “permanent and secured military communications”. The satellite is expected to reach its orbit of 36,000km in two weeks and South Korea’s military will take over the system in October after testing, it added. Seoul is looking to enhance its military capabilities as it pushes to end an arrangement under which, if war breaks out, American commanders will have authority over their combined forces. The satellite was “expected to improve the South Korean military’s independent operational capabilities”, an official at its defence ministry told Yonhap news agency. Seoul and Washington are security allies and the US stations 28,500 troops in the country. But their relationship has been strained in recent years, triggered by differences in their approaches to Pyongyang, and over cost-sharing responsibilities.
South Korea's first-ever military communications satellite has been successfully launched by private operator SpaceX, Seoul said Tuesday, as it looks to build up its defence capabilities. The ANASIS-II is intended to enhance the South's ability to defend itself against the nuclear-armed North, which invaded in 1950. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellite blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Seoul's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said in a statement. SpaceX confirmed the satellite deployed about 32 minutes after lift-off, on Monday afternoon local time. DAPA said the launch made South Korea the 10th country in the world to own a military-only communications satellite, which will provide "permanent and secured military communications". The satellite is expected to reach its orbit of 36,000 kilometres in two weeks and South Korea's military will take over the system in October after testing, it added. Seoul is looking to enhance its military capabilities as it pushes to end an arrangement under which, if war breaks out, American commanders will have authority over their combined forces. The satellite was "expected to improve the South Korean military's independent operational capabilities", an official at its defence ministry told Yonhap news agency. Seoul and Washington are security allies and the US stations 28,500 troops in the country. But their relationship has been strained in recent years, triggered by differences in their approaches to Pyongyang, and over cost-sharing responsibilities.
When a pandemic threatens a good romp in the mud, some South Koreans bring the mud home with them instead. The popular Boryeong Mud Festival, halted this year because of Covid-19, instead became an online celebration of soil, with people from around the country enjoying mud pools and mud packs in their homes – and streaming the dirty results. The annual mud extravaganza, in Boryeong on the coast 130km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Seoul, is South Korea’s most popular festival for international visitors. They typically flock to the beach in their hundreds for mud slides, mud wrestling and other revelry. This year the city set up a large screen in a studio streaming images of hundreds of people, some with mud kits consisting of a mini-pool, mud packs, mud soaps and colourful mud powders. Daubed with blue, red and yellow mud powders, many watched singers perform online. “I was sad that I wasn’t able to go to the Boryeong Mud Festival, but it is great that my Mom made a mud pool,” said 10-year-old Han Chae-yoon, sitting in a mini-pool in her living room, her face and body covered with mud. Her mother Kim young-ah told Reuters, “My home gets dirty, but the children enjoy it and I am happy for that.” Some 3,000 people, including K-pop fans from overseas, watched the live event on YouTube. Boryeong launched the festival on Daecheon Beach in 1998 to rejuvenate a local economy hit by the Asian financial crisis. The event promoted mud-based cosmetics said to be good for the skin – turning what is known as a dirty beach into one of South Korea’s biggest tourist attractions.
The magnitude of South Korea’s sexism problem has been illustrated by the case of a top politician and women’s rights advocate who was accused of sexual harassment then took his own life, activists say. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, was instrumental in advocating against gender discrimination and in the 1990s won what is widely considered the first sexual harassment case in the conservative society. But following his suicide, feminist campaigners said he had avoided shame and punishment for allegedly harassing his female secretary, who filed a police complaint against him the day before his death. The circumstances of Park’s case — despite his liberal background and after a high-profile #MeToo campaign in the country — highlight the scale of gender inequality in South Korean politics, they said yesterday. Park was the latest in a series of senior figures in the ruling centre-left Democratic party to face accusations of sexual misconduct. Ahn Hee-jung, a former provincial governor who was runner-up in the 2017 race for the party’s presidential nomination, was convicted of “sexual abuse of authority” last year. And three months ago Oh Keo-don, the Democratic mayor of South Korea’s second biggest city Busan, resigned after admitting he had “unnecessary physical contact” with a female staffer. “Almost all South Korean men, whether they are politically conservative or liberal, are very traditional and patriarchal when it comes to gender issues,” Lee Soo-yeon, a researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute in Seoul, told AFP. “Politicians — who constantly seek power and acknowledgement — are no exception.” Male Korean politicians also “generally don’t understand what’s private is also political”, she said. “They would endorse feminism if it helps their political career, but would not think how they treat women in real life — such as at home or at work — also matters.” Activists have previously accused President Moon Jae-in — who once called himself a feminist — of failing women. “This is both the failure of the individual and the political party,” said Harvard researcher Keung Yoon-bae. “The chauvinism and misogyny — as well as the blindness to these issues — within the Korean Left has a long history, going back to student activism,” she added. “It can’t go unaddressed.” Park was one of the most prominent male advocates for women’s rights in South Korea and a pioneering figure in the field.
Hundreds of drones lit up the night sky in Seoul for a spectacular showcase of motivational and awareness messages as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic. Three hundred unmanned aerial vehicles were programmed to form images above the Han river -- which runs through the South Korean capital -- for the eyecatching flash mob. The show began with messages reminding people of key precautionary measures, including wearing masks, washing hands and keeping a two-metre distance from others. A drone display showing messages of support for the country amid the covid-19 pandemic, above a park in central Seoul The drones created images of a mask surrounded by coronavirus particles, quickly shuffling to form two hands and water droplets against the dark night sky. The 10-minute show shifted to messages of gratitude for medical personnel in the frontlines of the pandemic as well as all South Koreans for their collective efforts. "THANKS TO YOU," the drones wrote in the sky next to a heart shape, then formed a silhouette of the Korean peninsula with the message: "Cheer up, Republic of Korea." The government-organised event on Saturday night was not advertised in advance in consideration of social distancing rules, the transport ministry said.
South Korea and the United States yesterday reaffirmed their commitment to defending “the hard-fought peace” on the divided peninsula as the allies marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. Communist North Korea invaded the US-backed South on June 25, 1950, triggering a three-year war that killed millions. The fighting ended with an armistice that was never replaced by a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the Demilitarised Zone and the two Koreas still technically at war. “On this day in 1950, the US-ROK military alliance was born of necessity and forged in blood,” US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo said in a joint statement. The two paid tribute to the “sacrifice, bravery, and legacy of those who laid down their lives in defence of a free, democratic, and prosperous” South, the statement read. Seoul’s defence ministry puts the war’s military fatalities at 520,000 North Koreans, 137,000 Southern troops and 37,000 Americans. The North has a different history of the conflict, which it knows as the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War, and insists that it was attacked first, before it counter-assaulted. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried more than 10 stories on the war yesterday, including an editorial asserting that a US invasion had turned “the entire country into ashes”. “A ceasefire is not peace,” it said. “The enemy is aiming for the moment that we forget about June 25 and lower our guard.” The nuclear-armed North, which is subject to multiple international sanctions over its banned weapons programmes, says it needs its arsenal to deter a US invasion. Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been deadlocked for months, leaving inter-Korean relations in a deep freeze despite a rapid rapprochement in 2018 that brought three summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in. The Rodong Sinmun carried a picture of a war heroes’ cemetery on the outskirts of Pyongyang, with the caption reading: “The great achievements of the victory generation will not be forgotten.” At the site of one of the key battlefields in Cheorwon county, near the Demilitarised Zone dividing the peninsula, a handful of surviving South Korean war veterans marked the anniversary. “It is our misfortune that the South and North had to live for nearly 70 years in confrontation because of the war,” a veteran said, before releasing white doves as a symbol of their hopes for a final peace settlement. Kim on Wednesday suspended plans for military moves aimed at the South, after the North raised tensions last week by demolishing a liaison office on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean co-operation. Recent events showed that inter-Korean relations “can turn into a house of cards at any time”, the South’s JoongAng Daily said in an editorial yesterday on the anniversary. The South Korean government has “persistently turned a blind eye” to Pyongyang’s provocations, it said, resulting in a “slackening sense of security”. “There is no free ride in keeping peace,” the editorial read, adding: “We hope the government and defence ministry deeply reflect on the lesson of 70 years ago.” Seoul’s relationship with Washington has been strained in recent years by the Trump administration’s demands that it pay more towards the cost of keeping 28,500 US troops on the peninsula to protect the South from its nuclear-armed neighbour. But the allies “remain firmly committed to defending the hard-fought peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the defence ministers’ statement added.
North Korea is suspending military action plans against South Korea, the official KCNA news agency reported yesterday, as a report from Seoul suggested North Korean troops were taking down loudspeakers reinstalled at the fortified border. Political tensions between the rival Koreas had been rising over Pyongyang’s objections to plans by defector-led groups in the South to send propaganda leaflets into the North. Stalled negotiations regarding economic sanctions imposed because of the North’s nuclear weapons programme had also fuelled tensions. It was not immediately clear why North Korea had softened its position, which came after it blew up a liaison office last week and cut off communication hotlines with the South. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a video conference meeting of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission on Tuesday, where members “took stock of the prevailing situation” before deciding to suspend the military plans, KCNA said, without elaborating. The committee also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported. Late on Wednesday, KCNA issued another statement by Kim Yong-chol, a senior Pyongyang official, criticising the South Korean defence minister’s remarks to parliament that the North’s actions must be withdrawn, not suspended. Kim called the comment “foolish and inappropriate”, warning Seoul should “think and behave wisely” not create a greater crisis. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing unnamed military sources, said North Korea’s military was seen removing about 10 loudspeakers near the demilitarised zone (DMZ) yesterday, just days after they were seen reinstalling around 20 of the devices. About 40 such systems had been taken down after the two Koreas signed an accord in 2018 to cease “all hostile acts”. A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said it was monitoring the situation and had no change in its stance that inter-Korean agreements should be kept. The ministry also confirmed South Korean media reports that a number of official North Korea propaganda websites had removed some articles critical of South Korea, though the spokesman said it was unclear why. South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young said Seoul would continue efforts to prevent escalation, and call for Washington and Beijing to help achieve denuclearisation and peace on the Korean peninsula, which was “made even more distant” by their rivalry. “Dialogue, steadfast engagement and a healthy dose of patience are the only constructive options for moving forward,” Cho said in a video speech to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Kim Jong-un’s decision to suspend the unspecified military actions may represent a reprieve from weeks of increasingly provocative moves by North Korea. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, warned last week of retaliatory measures against South Korea that could involve the military, without elaborating. The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) later said it had been studying an “action plan” that included sending troops into joint tourism and economic zones, reoccupying border guard posts that had been abandoned under the 2018 pact, taking steps to “turn the front line into a fortress”, and supporting plans for the North to send its own propaganda leaflets into the South. Jenny Town, with the US-based North Korea-monitoring website 38 North, said anti-South Korea rhetoric from the North over the past week had left room for flexibility, but it was still unclear where the latest moves would lead. “Overall, it doesn’t appear that the North has necessarily wanted to be overly provocative,” she said. “While it seems set on reversing the measures taken in the inter-Korean agreements - in a dramatic fashion - so far, the rhetoric has already been milder since the demolition of the liaison office.”
Health authorities in South Korea said for the first time yesterday it is in the midst of a “second wave” of novel coronavirus infections around Seoul, driven by small but persistent outbreaks stemming from a holiday in May. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) had previously said South Korea’s first wave had never really ended. But yesterday, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said it had become clear that a holiday weekend in early May marked the beginning of a new wave of infections focused in the densely populated greater Seoul area, which had previously seen few cases. “In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March,” Jeong said at a regular briefing. “Then we see that the second wave which was triggered by the May holiday has been going on.” At the end of February, South Korea reported a peak of more than 900 cases in a day, in the first large outbreak of the coronavirus outside of China. An intensive tracking and testi ng campaign reduced the numbers to single digits by late April. But just as the country announced it would be easing social distancing guidelines in early May, new cases spiked, driven in part by infections among young people who visited nightclubs and bars in Seoul over the holiday weekend. “We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter,” Jeong said. “Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue.” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told a briefing that while daily numbers may be at manageable levels, if recent infection rates continued the city could soon see hundreds of cases a day. As of midnight Sunday, South Korea reported 17 new coronavirus cases, the first time in nearly a month that daily new cases had dropped below 20. It was a drop from the 48 and 67 cases reported in the previous two days. South Korea has reported a total of 12,438 cases, with 280 deaths.
Health authorities in South Korea said for the first time on Monday it is in the midst of a "second wave" of novel coronavirus infections around Seoul, driven by small but persistent outbreaks stemming from a holiday in May. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) had previously said South Korea's first wave had never really ended. But on Monday, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said it had become clear that a holiday weekend in early May marked the beginning of a new wave of infections focused in the densely populated greater Seoul area, which had previously seen few cases. "In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March," Jeong said at a regular briefing. "Then we see that the second wave which was triggered by the May holiday has been going on.” At the end of February, South Korea reported a peak of more than 900 cases in a day, in the first large outbreak of the coronavirus outside of China. An intensive tracking and testing campaign reduced the numbers to single digits by late April. But just as the country announced it would be easing social distancing guidelines in early May, new cases spiked, driven in part by infections among young people who visited nightclubs and bars in Seoul over the holiday weekend. "We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter," Jeong said. "Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue." Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told a briefing that while daily numbers may be at manageable levels, if recent infection rates continued the city could soon see hundreds of cases a day. As of midnight Sunday, South Korea reported 17 new coronavirus cases, the first time in nearly a month that daily new cases had dropped below 20. It was a drop from the 48 and 67 cases reported in the previous two days. South Korea has reported a total of 12,438 cases, with 280 deaths.
North Korea is preparing to launch an anti-Seoul leaflet campaign, state media said yesterday, prompting sharp criticism from South Korea with tensions high on the peninsula. Pyongyang has recently issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of Seoul over anti-North leaflets, which defectors based in the South send across the border - usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles. North Korea has upped the pressure over the campaigns with a dramatic demolition of a building on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean rapprochement, threats to bolster its military presence at the border, and now leaflets of its own. “Enraged” North Koreans are now “pushing forward with the preparations for launching a large-scale distribution” of “leaflets of punishment” into the South, the official KCNA news agency said. “Every action should be met with proper reaction and only when one experiences it oneself, one can feel how offending it is.” Photos carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed North Koreans preparing the leaflets, and cigarette butts and ashes scattered over flyers featuring the face of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. One of the leaflets with an image of Moon drinking a cup of unidentified beverage read: “(He has) eaten it all, including the North-South Korea agreement”. Hours later, Seoul’s unification ministry urged Pyongyang to withdraw the plan “immediately”, calling the move “very regrettable”. Seoul filed a police complaint last week against two defector groups over the leaflets that have offended Pyongyang, and warned of a “thorough crackdown” against activists sending anti-North leaflets. But the North continued issue denunciations of the South over the leaflets - which criticise the North Korean leader over human rights abuses and his nuclear ambitions. Analysts say North Korea may be seeking to manufacture a crisis to increase pressure on South Korea to extract concessions. Moon, who has long favoured engagement with the North, was targeted earlier this week by Kim Yo-jong - the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un - in an extensive diatribe, calling him “disgusting” and “impudent”. Seoul retorted with unusually stern criticism to Pyongyang’s latest denunciations of Moon and its blowing up of the liaison office this week, saying it will “no longer tolerate” the North’s “unreasonable acts and words”. Inter-Korean relations have been in deep freeze for months, following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
North Korea is gearing up to send propaganda leaflets over its southern border, denouncing North Korean defectors and South Korea, its state media said on Saturday, the latest retaliation for leaflets from the South as bilateral tensions rise. Enraged North Korean people across the country "are actively pushing forward with the preparations for launching a large-scale distribution of leaflets," which are piled as high as a mountain, said state news agency KCNA. "Every action should be met with proper reaction and only when one experiences it oneself, one can feel how offending it is," KCNA said. North Korea has blamed North Korean defectors for launching leaflets across the border and threatened military action. On Tuesday, Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office to show its displeasure against the defectors and South Korea for not stopping them launching leaflets.] South Korea's unification ministry, which is responsible for inter-Korean dialogue, said on Saturday that North Korea's plan to send leaflets was "extremely regrettable," and urged it to scrap the plan immediately. A North Korean defector-led group said on Friday it had scrapped a plan to send hundreds of plastic bottles stuffed with rice, medicine and face masks to North Korea by throwing them into the sea near the border on Sunday. The two Koreas, which are still technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty, have waged leaflet campaigns for decades. South Korea's military used to launch anti-North flyers across the demilitarized zone, but the program ended in 2010. Several defector-led groups have regularly sent back flyers, together with food, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news, usually by balloon over the border or in bottles by river. Pyongyang has used balloons to send its anti-South leaflets. South Koreans previously were rewarded with stationery if they reported leaflets from the North.
South Korea’s Unification Minister, its point man for relations with the North, stepped down yesterday over heightened tensions on the peninsula, days after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with the South. President Moon Jae-in “accepted Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul’s offer to resign”, the presidential Blue House said in a statement, after warning it will “no longer tolerate” the North’s unreasonable behaviour in an unusually stern criticism earlier this week. Kim had offered to leave on Wednesday, a day after the North demolished the liaison office, saying he “takes responsibility” for the worsening of inter-Korean relations. The North’s official KCNA news agency again blamed the South for the rising tensions yesterday, calling Seoul’s condemnation of its blowing up of the office “a guilty party filing the suit first”. “All measures taken by us are punishments” that the South “deserves for their crimes”, KCNA said in the commentary. In his resignation statement, Kim expressed hope that his departure “will be a chance to pause for a bit”. “One can never overcome hatred with hatred,” he told reporters, adding: “There are many wounds to heal in inter-Korean relations... We have to stop here.” 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. 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. 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. Moon, who has also long backed engagement with the North, has been called unrealistic by his critics for his dovish approach.
A North Korean defector-led group yesterday prepared hundreds of plastic bottles stuffed with rice which they plan to float into North Korea, despite a legal challenge from South Korean authorities and threats from Pyongyang. Citing South Korea’s failure to stop the defectors, North Korea this week blew up the joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue with South Korea and threatened military action. Denouncing defectors as “mongrel dogs” and “human scum”, North Korea says their activities are an insult to the dignity of the country’s supreme leader. South Korea is keen to improve relations with North Korea, and last week the government announced it would pursue legal actions against two defector-led groups, saying their cross-border shipments of aid and propaganda were raising tensions with North Korea, posing risks to South Koreans who live on the border, and causing environmental damage. Still, one group is planning to send hundreds of bottles stuffed with rice, medicine and medical face masks to North Korea by throwing them into the sea near the border on Sunday, said Park Jung-oh, 61, a North Korean defector who heads the group, called Kuensaem. “We do this as humanitarian aid amongst those who share the same values, so whatever North Korea says, we will continue to help those in hard situations, the elderly and the victims,” he said. Gathered at a small park in Seoul, the group filled dozens of 2 litre bottles with up to 1.5kg of rice each, sending up to 700kg of rice in total, Park said. Kuensaem has been sending goods to the North twice a month for the past five years. Sunday will mark their 108th time, Park said. South Korean authorities have occasionally moved to stop such operations, including in 2018 during a series of summits between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “I don’t know why the Unification Ministry is nitpicking at us all of a sudden. The (South Korean) government – the Gangwha police, maritime police and the military – all knew about us,” said Park, unloading rice and bottles from his white truck. He said he had not been contacted by any South Korean authorities since they announced they would pursue legal action. Several defector-led groups regularly send flyers over the border, together with food, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news. Most use balloons or bottles in rivers. The two Koreas traded fire in 2014 after the North’s military fired machine guns at balloons launched by defector activists.
North Korea said yesterday it had rejected a South Korean offer to send special envoys to ease escalating tension over defiance by North Korean defectors and stalled reconciliation efforts, and it vowed to redeploy troops to border areas. The North Korean announcements came a day after it blew up a joint liaison office set up on its side of the border as part of a 2018 peace agreement between the two countries’ leaders. Any moves to invalidate cross-border peace deals pose a major setback to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to foster more lasting reconciliation with the North. They could also complicate efforts by US President Donald Trump, already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and anti-racism protests, to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes. “The solution to the present crisis between the North and the South caused by the incompetence and irresponsibility of the South Korean authorities is impossible and it can be terminated only when proper price is paid,” the North’s KCNA state news agency said. The North’s Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the Workers’ Party, published photographs showing the liaison office before and after its demolition, alongside a series of KCNA articles and commentaries criticising South Korea. “Ominous prelude to total catastrophe of North-South relations,” one of the articles was headlined, referring to the destruction of the office. Tension had been rising this month with North Korea threatening to cut ties with South Korea and retaliate over North Korean defectors in the South sending propaganda leaflets - by balloon or by sea - into North Korea. South Korea, which had been keen to improve ties with the North, called on the defectors to stop but they said they intended to push ahead with their campaign. The worsening situation led South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees relations with the North, to offer his resignation, apologising in remarks to reporters for failing to deliver on expectations for peace and prosperity on the peninsula. On Monday, Moon offered to send his national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and spy chief Suh Hoon as special envoys, KCNA said. But Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and a senior ruling party official, “flatly rejected the tactless and sinister proposal”. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, harshly criticised Moon in another KCNA statement, saying he had failed to implement any of the 2018 pacts and “put his neck into the noose of pro-US flunkeyism”. South Korea’s presidential Blue House said the criticism of Moon was rude and senseless, and damaged the trust the leaders of the two Koreas had built. “We will no longer accept such unreasonable behaviour,” Blue House press secretary Yoon Do-han told a briefing. Moon offered to play a mediator role between Trump and Kim Jong-un as they pulled back from trading threats and insults in 2017, leading to a series of meetings in 2018 and 2019 that were high on symbolism but which failed to achieve a breakthrough on denuclearisation. In Monday’s speech, which marked the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit, Moon expressed regret that North Korea-US and inter-Korean relations had not made progress as hoped but asked North Korea to maintain peace deals and return to dialogue. “In the eyes of the Kims, Moon’s administration gave too much of false hope that it would defy US pressure to move their relations forward,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear envoy. “But after two years, what they have left is a failed summit with Trump and no progress whatsoever on inter-Korean economic cooperation.” In a separate KCNA dispatch yesterday, a spokesman for the General Staff of the (North) Korean People’s Army said it would dispatch troops to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong near the border, where the two Koreas had carried out joint economic projects in the past. The spokesman also said police posts that had been withdrawn from the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) would be reinstalled, while artillery units near the western sea border, where defectors frequently send propaganda leaflets drifting in balloons over North Korea, will be reinforced. The North will also resume sending anti-Seoul leaflets across the border, he added. South Korea’s defence ministry has urged North Korea to abide by a 2018 inter-Korean military pact, under which both sides vowed to cease “all hostile acts” and dismantled some structures along the DMZ. Jang Kum Chol, director of North Korea’s United Front Department in charge of cross-border affairs, said the North would never have talks or exchanges with South Korean authorities “who evoke only disgust and nasty feelings”.
North Korea blew up an office set up to foster better ties with South Korea yesterday in a “terrific explosion” after threatening action if North Korean defectors went ahead with a campaign to send propaganda leaflets into the North. North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said the liaison office in the border town of Kaesong, which had been closed since January due to the coronavirus, was “completely ruined”. Surveillance video released by South Korea’s defence ministry showed a large explosion that appeared to bring down the four-storey structure. It also appeared to cause a partial collapse of a neighbouring 15-storey high-rise that had served as a residential facility for South Korean officials who staffed the liaison office. The destruction of the building represents a major setback to efforts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to coax North Korea into co-operation. It 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 co-ordination with our Republic of Korea allies,” a senior US administration official said. The State Department did not immediately comment, but announced that Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, the top US official dealing with North Korea, would travel with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Hawaii. Sources said Pompeo will hold talks with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii today on issues including North Korea. China is North Korea’s main ally and neighbour and shares US concerns about Pyongyang’s weapons programmes. US officials have stressed the need for Beijing to strictly enforce international sanctions on North Korea. Russia said it was concerned about the situation on the Korean peninsula and called for restraint from all sides. South Korea’s national security council said South Korea would sternly respond if North Korea continued to raise tensions. 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”, deputy national security advisor Kim You-geun told a briefing. Reclusive North Korea and the democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty. Tensions have been rising over recent days with North Korea threatening to cut ties and retaliate over the propaganda leaflets, which carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, including on human rights. 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.” KCNA 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. The first diplomatic mission of its kind, the liaison office was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas. The building had originally been used as offices for managing operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture between the two Koreas that was suspended in 2016 amid disagreement over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes. South Korea spent at least 9.78bn won ($8.6mn) in 2018 to renovate the building, which stood as a gleaming blue glass structure in the otherwise drab industrial city. When it was operating, South Koreans worked on the second floor and North Koreans on the fourth floor. The third floor held conference rooms for meetings between the two sides. When the office was closed in January, South Korea said it had 58 personnel stationed there. On Saturday, North Korean state media reported that Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader and a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, had ordered the department in charge of inter-Korean affairs to “decisively carry out the next action”. “Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen,” she was reported as saying. Earlier yesterday, North Korean state media quoted the military as saying it had been studying an “action plan” to re-enter zones that had been demilitarized under the 2018 inter-Korean pact and “turn the front line into a fortress”. South Korea’s defence ministry called for North Korea to abide by the 2018 agreement, under which both sides vowed to cease “all hostile acts” and dismantled a number of structures along the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone between the countries.
North Korea blew up an office set up to foster better ties with South Korea in its border town of Kaesong on Tuesday after it 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 said the liaison office, which had been closed since January over fears of the novel coronavirus, was ‘tragically ruined with a terrific explosion’. South Korea also said the office had been blown up. Its media reported that an explosion was heard and smoke could be seen rising over Kaesong. The office, when it was operating, served as an embassy for both of the old rivals and its destruction represents a major set-back for efforts by South Korea's President Moon Jae-in to coax the North into cooperation. Tension has been rising over recent days with North Korea threatening to cut ties with South Korea and retaliate over the propaganda leaflets, which carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including on human rights. KCNA said the office was blown up to force ‘human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes’. North Korea refers to defectors as ‘human scum’. A South Korean military source told Reuters that there had been signs North Korea was going ahead with the demolition earlier in the day, and South Korean military officials watched live surveillance imagery as the building was blown up. South Korea's won weakened by about 0.7% against the dollar in offshore non-deliverable forward trade after the reports, which came soon after the onshore spot trade finished. On Saturday, North Korean state media reported that Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, who serves as a senior official of the ruling Workers' Party, had ordered the department in charge of inter-Korean affairs to ‘decisively carry out the next action’. ‘Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen,’ she was reported as saying. The first diplomatic mission of its kind, the inter-Korean liaison office was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas. The building had been originally used as offices for managing operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture between the two Koreas that was suspended in 2016 amid disagreement over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes. South Korea spent at least 9.78 billion won (US$8.6 million) in 2018 to renovate the building, which stood as a gleaming four-storey blue glass structure amid the otherwise drab industrial city. When it was operating, dozens of officials from both sides would work at the office, with South Koreans travelling each week into the North and staying at residential facilities in the building. MILITARY MOVES? Earlier on Tuesday, North Korean state media quoted the military as saying it has been studying an ‘action plan’ to re-enter zones that had been demilitarized under a 2018 inter-Korean pact and ‘turn the front line into a fortress’. ‘Our army will rapidly and thoroughly implement any decisions and orders of the party and government,’ the Korean People's Army said in a statement carried by KCNA. South Korea's defence ministry called for North Korea to abide by the 2018 agreement, under which both sides' militaries vowed to cease ‘all hostile acts’ and they dismantled a number of structures along the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone between the two countries. ‘We're taking the situation seriously,’ ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing. ‘Our military is maintaining readiness posture to be able to respond to any situation.’ Several defector-led groups have regularly sent back flyers, together with food, $1 bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news into North Korea, usually by balloon over the border or in bottles by river. South Korea, which has been keen to improve ties with the North, called on the defectors to stop and plans legal action against two of defector groups, saying their actions fuel cross-border tensions, pose risks to residents living near the border and cause environmental damage. But the groups have said they intend to push ahead with their planned campaign this week. South Korea's President Moon urged North Korea on Monday to keep peace agreements reached by the two leaders and return to dialogue.
A large “Black Lives Matter” banner draped on the outside of the US embassy in Seoul was removed yesterday after President Donald Trump expressed his displeasure about it, two people familiar with the matter said. The banner was hung on the front of the mission building on Saturday as the embassy tweeted a message in support of the anti-racism campaign across the United States and worldwide in response to the killing last month of George Floyd, an African American, in Minneapolis police custody. Trump, who has responded to street protests by declaring himself a “law and order” president and urging US local authorities to crack down, was unhappy about the banner when he learned about it, the two sources said on condition of anonymity. The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The banner was seen as a rare show of open support for the Black Lives Matter movement by a Trump appointee. US ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris had ordered that it be draped on the embassy. After the banner was taken down, embassy spokesman William Coleman reiterated that Harris’s reason for putting it up was “to communicate a message of solidarity with Americans concerned with racism.” But he added: “The Ambassador’s intent was not to support or encourage donations to any specific organisation.” “To avoid the misperception that American taxpayer dollars were spent to benefit such organisations, he directed that the banner be removed,” Coleman said, adding “this in no way lessens the principles and ideals expressed by raising the banner.” Bloomberg News reported earlier that both Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were displeased about the banner. Harris, a 40-year Navy veteran who started in Seoul in 2018, has privately said he is planning to exit his position before the end of the year.