North Korea admitted Tuesday to bombing an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the border with South Korea as tensions escalate on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, confirmed to NBC News that the liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong was demolished “by bombing” on Tuesday afternoon local time.
“We confirm that NK demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Gaesong Industrial Complex by bombing at 14:49 KST (01:49 ET),” a spokesperson said.
North Korean state news agency, KCNA, also reported Tuesday that the joint liaison office was “completely ruined.”
South Korea’s national security council has convened a meeting in the wake of the office’s destruction, a spokesperson for the country’s presidential office told NBC News.
The country’s Ministry of Defense said it was monitoring North Korean military movement around the clock and is maintaining “resolute military posture.”
“We are making full effort to manage the situation stably so that the situation does not escalate into a military crisis,” the ministry said in a statement. “If North Korea carries out military provocation, our military will respond with powerful force.”
South Korea’s vice unification minister, Suh Ho, who co-headed the liaison office, said North Korea’s unilateral demolition of the office today was “unprecedented in inter-Korean relations,” calling it “a nonsensical act that should have not happened.”
“We express deep regret and strongly protest against it,” Suh said.
Earlier this month, North Korea threatened to permanently shut the liaison office with South Korea as it condemned its rival for failing to prevent activists from sending anti-North Korean leaflets across the border.
Last week, North Korea cited the same reasons for axing all communications with South Korea, a move analysts believe could be an attempt to manufacture a crisis and force concessions from its neighbor.
Before South Korea’s announcement that the liaison office was demolished, KCNA reported Tuesday that North Korea’s military threatened to move back into zones that were demilitarized under inter-Korean peace agreements in the past as the country continued to dial up pressure on Seoul amid stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
The general staff of the Korean People’s Army said it’s reviewing a ruling party recommendation to advance into unspecified border areas that had been demilitarized under agreements with the South, which would “turn the front line into a fortress.”
On Sunday, South Korea convened an emergency security meeting after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, one of his top aides, threatened military action against South Korea.
In a statement carried Saturday by KCNA, Kim Yo Jong said she would leave the decision to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea to North Korea’s military.
She also threatened to demolish the “useless” inter-Korean liaison office at the time.
The timing of North Korea’s move to bomb the office is symbolic.
June 15 marked the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit that resulted in a joint peace declaration, in which the two countries committed to promoting unification, and humanitarian and economic cooperation.
North Korea’s close ally, China, has urged peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday amid the latest round of escalations, according to state news agency China News.
Experts have previously told NBC News that North Korea is trying to ratchet up tensions with the South as nuclear talks with Washington remain deadlocked after Kim Jong Un’s last summit with President Donald Trump in 2019 broke down without an agreement, and North Korea desperately needs relief in the face of harsh U.S.-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, North Korea said it was pulling away from its relationship with the U.S. two years after a historic handshake between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore and nearly a year after Trump took an unprecedented step onto North Korean soil, saying there had been no actual improvement in ties.