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South Korea's unification minister resigns after North blows up liaison office

Tensions on the peninsula have heightened in recent weeks.

South Korea's unification minister Kim Yeon-chul gets into a car as he leaves the government complex in Seoul today.
South Korea's unification minister Kim Yeon-chul gets into a car as he leaves the government complex in Seoul today.
Image: Lee Jin-man/AP/Press Association Images

SOUTH KOREA’S UNIFICATION minister, who oversees relations with North Korea, resigned today 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, without giving further details.

Kim had offered to step down on Wednesday, a day after the North demolished the liaison office, saying he “takes responsibility” for the worsening of inter-Korean relations.

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 blew up the building on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean rapprochement, and the following day threatened to bolster its military presence in and around the Demilitarized Zone.

Hanoi summit 

Inter-Korean relations have been very negative 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.

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.

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Moon, who has also long backed engagement with the North, has been called unrealistic by his critics for his dovish approach.

On Monday the left-leaning president gave a speech calling for inter-Korean dialogue and stressing the importance of peace on the peninsula.

But Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, called the speech “disgusting” and “shameless and impudent”, adding Moon “seems to be insane though he appears to be normal outwardly”.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after hostilities in the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953 but not a peace treaty.

© AFP 2020

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