North Korea blows up liaison office in Kaesong used for talks with South

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(CNN) — North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office used for talks between itself and South Korea, authorities in Seoul confirmed Tuesday, the latest sign that the relationship between the two longtime adversaries is rapidly deteriorating.

The four-story building is located in the town of Kaesong on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries. A plume of black smoke rising above the site was visible from the South Korean side of the border Tuesday afternoon.

The liaison office had been closed since January 30 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry. South Korean staff had not been to the building since, the ministry said.

North Korea did not say it was responsible for demolishing the building, but Pyongyang has issued a number of threats against Seoul in recent days. The most recent was a statement published by North Korean state media Tuesday that said Pyongyang had begun an "intensive retaliatory campaign" in response to plans by a group of defectors to use balloons to send anti-North Korean leaflets north of the DMZ.

North Korea claimed the leaflets violated the deal Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in struck in 2018 at their first summit, when both leaders agreed to cease "all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets" along their shared border. It's illegal for average North Koreans to consume information that is not approved by the country's powerful propaganda machine, and doing so can carry dire consequences.

The liaison office was reopened and refurbished as part of that deal to help the two Koreas communicate, but it's future had been thrown into doubt last week when North Korea announced it was cutting off all communication with South Korea, including a hot line meant to directly connect the leaders of the two countries, in response to the leaflets.

"The recent foolish act of daring hurt the dignity of our supreme leadership," the statement carried in KCNA Tuesday read.

"The world will clearly see what severe punishment our people will mete out to the South Korean authorities and how they wipe the human scum off the earth."

Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un's sister and perhaps the second-most powerful person in the country, demanded the South Korean government punish the defectors, whom she called "betrayers," "human scum" and "riff-raff who dared hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country and its great dignity," according to a statement carried by North Korean state news agency KCNA on Saturday.

Kim also hinted in that statement that the North Korean liaison office would be destroyed in some manner.

"Before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen," she said per the Saturday statement.

It's unclear if anyone was inside the building, as Pyongyang said last week that it was completely cutting off communication with South Korea.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "North Korea blows up liaison office in Kaesong used for talks with South"