North Korea Tests South Korea With Phone Delay at Joint Office
A man talks on a mobile phone by the Cheonggye stream in Seoul, South Korea. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

North Korea Tests South Korea With Phone Delay at Joint Office

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea tested the patience of South Korea by delaying a regularly scheduled phone conversation at a liaison office, after saying it was abolishing the project that once allowed the rivals to communicate around the clock.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday a morning phone call to the North Korean delegation at the facility in the North Korean border city of Kaesong went unanswered, ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key told reporters, adding it was a first since the office opened in 2018.

But North Korea answered the phone in the afternoon, without offering an explanation, the ministry said. The inter-Korean office has two set phone calls daily at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., even if there are no special issues.

“It is true that inter-Korean exchanges are at a standstill due to several factors including the Covid-19 outbreak, but we will continue to do what we can do to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Yoh said in the morning.

The facility was opened in the spirit of rapprochement advocated by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and was part of moves to reduce threats along the border, where the two countries have stationed about 1 million troops. It allowed for constant communication between the two sides for the first time since the start of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Last week, North Korea lashed into South Korea for allowing anti-Pyongyang leaflets to be sent across the border and said it was considering taking decisive measures to completely destroy contact spaces with its neighbor. This included abolishing the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.

South Korea said last week it would look to ban anti-North Korea leaflets flying over the border by balloon after Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the leader, rebuked Seoul for tolerating what North Korea state media quoted her as saying was a “sordid and wicked act of hostility.”

Millions of leaflets sent by South Korean activists and defectors from North Korea have flown across the border for more than a decade bearing messages critical of North Korea’s leaders, fueling friction between the rivals.

Leaflets that raise questions about the leader’s grip on power tend to draw some of the sharpest rebukes from Pyongyang and the latest leaflets came after Kim Jong Un has made fewer public appearances over the past several weeks than normal, which has raised questions in the outside world about his health.

North Korea has kept military hotlines running normally, with both sides speaking to each other Monday morning, Yonhap News Agency reported a defense ministry official as saying.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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