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(2nd LD) S. Korea's liaison phone call to N.K. goes unanswered for first time

All News 16:22 June 08, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 10-16; ADDS photo)
By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea did not answer a daily liaison phone call from South Korea on Monday for the first time since the opening of a joint liaison office in 2018, the unification ministry said, after Pyongyang vowed to abolish the office in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets from the South.

The lack of response deepened concerns that the North might be carrying out its threat to scrap the liaison office in protest of propaganda leaflets that defectors and other activists in the South fly across the border criticizing Pyongyang's leadership.

"This morning the liaison office attempted to call North Korea, but the North has not answered the call yet," the ministry's spokesperson Yoh Sang-key said at a regular press briefing. "This is the first time North Korea has not answered our calls."

"We will attempt to call again this afternoon as planned," he added.

This photo, from March 24, 2019, shows the joint liaison office set up by South and North Korea in the North's border town of Kaesong, following the summit agreement between their leaders in April 2018.(Pool photo)(Yonhap)

Last Thursday, Kim Yo-jong, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un's sister, issued a statement threatening to close the liaison office unless Seoul stops defector groups from sending leaflets into the North.

North Korean defectors and anti-Pyongyang activists have occasionally sent balloons carrying leaflets sharply criticizing the communist regime and its leader, despite repeated calls for a halt to the campaign.

The balloons are often flown with one-dollar bills and USB memory sticks to get more North Koreans to pick up the leaflets.

She denounced the leaflet campaign as a hostile act that violates the peace agreements banning hostilities against each other signed during the summit talks of their leaders in 2018.

She also warned that the North will scrap an inter-Korean military tension-reduction agreement calling for a halt to all hostilities along the border and completely dismantle a now-shuttered joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong.

In a politburo meeting of the Workers' Party that Kim presided over Sunday, however, he did not mention any measures his sister vowed to take in retaliation, including closing down the liaison office.

The inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong was launched in September 2018 to facilitate cross-border contact and cooperation between the two Koreas following a historic summit agreement between their leaders in April that year.

The two Koreas have made two phone calls daily, at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., as part of liaison communication.

After the liaison office was closed temporarily over coronavirus concerns earlier this year, liaison officers of the two sides have communicated through telephone and fax lines established between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Despite the silence in liaison communication, the North kept military hotlines running normally, with both sides speaking to each other via a series of hotlines Monday morning, according to the defense ministry.

North Korea gets riled up by defectors, while South Korea attempts to put pieces together

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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