North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office with South Korea near the border town of Kaesong.
The incident comes just hours after North Korea renewed threats of military action at the Korean border.
The site was opened in 2018 to help the Koreas – officially in a state of war – to communicate. The joint liaison office had been empty since January due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In a statement, South Korea warned it would “respond strongly” if North Korea “continues to worsen the situation”.
The destruction of the office, the statement said, “abandons the hopes of everyone who wanted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula”.
“The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”
Russia expressed concern at the renewed tensions between the Koreas.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on June 16: “We call for restraint from all the sides.”
Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating for weeks, prompted by defector groups in the South sending propaganda across the border.
Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – considered a close and powerful ally – threatened at the weekend to demolish the office.
There were hopes for improved relations between North Korea and South Korea and its close ally the US after President Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un at the North-South border last June, but nothing materialized and the atmosphere has since deteriorated.
North Korea is under crippling US and UN economic sanctions over its militarized nuclear program. Washington has not yet commented on the North’s latest action.
In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly condemned South Korea for allowing propaganda into its territory.
Defector groups regularly send such material via balloons, or even drones, into North Korea.