North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building on Tuesday after issuing a series of threats in a major escalation with South Korea as more than a year of diplomatic progress quickly fades away.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the destruction of the building in the North Korean border town of Kaesong happened at 2:49pm local time (05:49 GMT).
South Korean media reported a large explosion was heard and smoke could be seen rising over Kaesong.
South Korean military officials watched live surveillance imagery of the building as it was blown up.
The North – which has a long track record of pressuring South Korea when it fails to extract concessions from the United States – has repeatedly bashed the South in recent weeks over declining bilateral relations and its inability to stop leafleting by defectors and activists.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the North destroyed the office to “force human scum and those who have sheltered the scum to pay dearly for their crimes” – apparently referring to North Korean defectors who for years have floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
The inter-Korean liaison office was established in 2018 as part of a series of projects aimed at reducing tensions between the two Koreas.
When it was operating, dozens of officials from both sides would work in the building, with South Koreans travelling each week into the North.
The office has been closed since January over coronavirus fears.
In recent days, Pyongyang has made several threats against Seoul and threatened to destroy the office if defector groups there continue with their campaign to send propaganda leaflets and other material across the border.
On Saturday, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, warned that Seoul will soon witness “a tragic scene of the useless North-South liaison office being completely collapsed”.
She also said she would leave to North Korea’s military the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea.