North Korea cuts off all communication with South Korea

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North Korean youth and students march from the Pyongyang Youth Park Open-air Theatre to Kim Il Sung Square during a protest demonstration to denounce South Korean authorities policy against North Korea and defectors from the north, in Pyongyang, North Korea Monday, June 8, 2020. The signs read " Give us an order (to punish South Korea)." (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

SEOUL – SEOUL, South KoreaNorth Korea said it was cutting off all communication channels with South Korea on Tuesday, a move experts say could signal Pyongyang has grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said all cross-border communication lines would be cut off at noon in the “the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things.”

When South Korean officials tried to contact their North Korean counterparts via several channels after the North’s announcement Tuesday, the North Koreans didn’t answer, according to the South Korean government.

North Korea has cut communications in the past — not replying to South Korean phone calls or faxes — and then restored those channels when tensions eased. North Korea has been accused at times of deliberately creating tensions to bolster internal unity or to signal its frustration over a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Washington.

In its announcement, North Korea said Tuesday's move was a response to South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border.

“The South Korean authorities connived at the hostile acts against (North Korea) by the riff-raff, while trying to dodge heavy responsibility with nasty excuses,” KCNA said.

South Korea’s liberal government, which seeks improved relations with North Korea, said that cross-border hotlines must be maintained as they are the basic means of communication between the two Koreas. The Unification Ministry said South Korea will strive to promote peace while abiding by inter-Korean agreements.

For years, conservative South Korean activists, including North Korean defectors living in the South, have floated huge balloons into North Korea carrying leaflets criticizing leader Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and human rights record. The leafleting has sometimes triggered a furious response from North Korea, which bristles at any attempt to undermine its leadership.