Tensions Continue to Rise Between North and South KoreaFebruary 15, 2016 in North Korea, South Korea
Over the past week, tensions have continued to mount between North and South Korea, in the wake of Pyongyang’s recent rocket and nuclear tests.
On 11 February, North Korea vowed to cut two key communication hotlines with the South. The latest move comes after Seoul suspended its operations at the jointly-run Kaesong industrial complex in the North. Kaesong is one of the last points of co-operation between the two Koreas and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang. The North has called the shutdown “a declaration of war” and has designated Kaesong as a military zone. Seoul meanwhile has stated that the suspension is aimed at cutting off money, which the North uses for nuclear and missile development. On Thursday, Pyongyang also vowed to seize the assets of South Korean companies in Kaesong, and said that all workers from the South had to leave by 17:30 local time (08:30 GMT). South Korean companies had already started withdrawing managers, equipment and stock after Seoul announced the suspension. However according to sources, some South Korean workers were still in Kaesong after the deadline, stating that they had been instructed to wait for further instructions from South Korean officials.
North Korea previously cut communication hotlines with the South in 2013, however it reopened them after relations between the two countries improved. The hotlines, which are intended to defuse dangerous military situation, include one used by the military and another used to communicate with the United Nations Command at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone. A third hotline is maintained by the Red Cross.
Last month, Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test, while on Sunday (7 February), it launched a satellite into space. Both moves have drawn international condemnation.
The latest showdown between the two Koreas comes as the United States Senate voted unanimously in favor of tougher sanctions against North Korea. The draft legislation targets any person or entity trading or financing anything related to weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms proliferation, North Korea’s rocket programme, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses, activities that threaten US cyber security, and the import of luxury goods. While all were already sanctioned, the latest measures aim to tighten the restrictions. The bill also authorities US $50 million for radio broadcasts into North Korea and humanitarian aid programmes. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a similar bill. The two will now have to be reconciled into a final measure, which will need to be signed of by President Barack Obama.