N. Korea cuts military hotline with South

(2nd UPDATE) This means all direct inter-government and military contact is suspended

SEOUL, South Korea (3rd UPDATE) – North Korea said Wednesday, March 27, it was cutting a military hotline with South Korea, meaning that all direct inter-government and military contact has been suspended after it previously cut a Red Cross link.

“From now, the North-South military communications will be cut off,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted a military official as saying. The North Korean Central News Agency reported that, “the north-south military communications which were set up for dialogue and cooperation between the north and the south has already lost its significance.”

North Korea sent a message to the South, with the head of the North’s delegation to the general-level military talks saying, “I, upon authorization, inform the south side that the north-south military communications will be cut off and the members of the north side at the military communications liaison office in the zone under the control of the north and the south in the west coastal area will stop their activities from this moment.”

The announcement comes a day after North Korea’s military put its “strategic” rocket units on a war footing, with a fresh threat to strike targets on the US mainland, Hawaii and Guam, as well as South Korea.

Military tensions on the Korean peninsula have been at an elevated level for months, following the North’s long-range rocket launch in December and the third nuclear test it carried out last month.

Both events triggered UN sanctions that infuriated Pyongyang, which has spent the past month issuing increasingly threatening statements about unleashing an “all-out war” backed by nuclear weapons. 

Several weeks ago North Korea severed the Red Cross hotline that had been used for government-to-government communications in the absence of diplomatic relations.

Severing the military hotline could affect operations at the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial complex in the North, as the hotline was used to organise movement on people and vehicles in and out.

The industrial estate — established in 2004 as a symbol of cross-border cooperation — has remained operational despite the repeated crises in inter-Korean relations.

Earlier Wednesday the North announced an imminent meeting of the ruling party politburo and launched a scathing attack on South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-Hye.

‘Miserable ruin’

The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a state body in charge of propaganda and inter-Korean affairs, accused Park of slander and provocation after she made a speech warning the North that failure to abandon its nuclear weapons programme would result in its collapse.

“If she keeps to the road of confrontation… she will meet a miserable ruin,” the committee said.

In Seoul some analysts suggested the North was fast running out of threats and targets for its invective as it sought to bully the international community into negotiating on Pyongyang’s terms.

“They are upping the rhetorical ante in every possible way, but the international community is not reacting as it had hoped,” said Cho Han-Bum, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Cho said the coming politburo meeting would probably seek to keep “the momentum going” through some symbolic gesture.

“I envisage a resolution that further raises the alarm, like declaring a top alert for the entire nation beyond the military, or something like that,” Cho said.

Although North Korea is a past master of brinkmanship, there are concerns in South Korea and beyond that the current situation is so volatile that one accidental step could escalate into serious conflict.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said US forces were ready to respond to “any contingency”, while Japan, which hosts a number of US bases, said its government was “on full alert”.

The US and South Korean militaries signed a new pact last week, providing for a joint military response to even low-level provocation by North Korea.

In a sign of the growing tensions along the North-South border — one of the most heavily fortified frontiers in the world — a South Korean guard Wednesday threw a grenade at an “unidentified object” and triggered a brief alert.

A subsequent patrol uncovered no sign of any North Korean infiltration, a defence ministry spokesman said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse

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