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Tensions between North Korea and its southern neighbour have slowly escalated in the past weeks. Relations began to sour earlier this month when hundreds of thousands of balloons floated from South Korea landed in the North.
Then, this morning, the South reported that the North had blown up a joint liaison office the pair had near the North’s border town of Kaesong.
This came hours after the North issued renewed threats of military action at the Korean border – including land grabs and potential invasion.
The now destroyed site was opened at the same time a communications line was installed, connecting Pyongyang and Seoul directly.
Yet this communications line was destroyed earlier this month after hundreds of thousands of balloons containing leaflets condemning North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, crossed the border from the South.
Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, reacted to the leaflets, calling those responsible “human scum”, describing the South as “the enemy”.
Yo-jong has appeared to take a leading role in recent developments, and has been described as Kim’s “alter-ego” by North Korean experts.
The world is no stranger to hearing the North’s threats – it regularly condemns the US and the West.
In Kim’s 2018 New Year’s address, he issued US President Donald Trump a thinly veiled threat with enormous consequences.
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The address is intended for the public and considered by many as a PR stunt for the global media to chase.
During it, Kim warned the US to be aware that his country’s nuclear forces had become a reality, not just a threat.
Kim said: “We must mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment.
“We should always keep ready to take immediate nuclear counter-attacks against the enemy’s scheme for a nuclear war.
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“The US should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table.”
He added: “The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range.
“The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”
The period saw Pyongyang dramatically ramp up its efforts to become a nuclear power.
Trump reacted to the threats, threatening to “totally destroy” Pyongyang and taunting Kim, saying the North Korean leader was on “a suicide mission”.
Just months later, in June 2018, the two leaders sat down together, shook hands and agreed on what were then considered several landmark issues, notwithstanding the North’s pledge to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
Yet, not long after, North Korea continued its campaign of developing its nuclear arsenal, and so the agreement was effectively made void.
It has since become clear that the North has no intention of making amends with the US or its southern neighbour.
The condemning of the South as “the enemy” was, the North said, the first in a series of planned actions.
This time round, Yo-jong appears to be taking a leading role in the North’s attack.
In March, the leader’s sister made her first public statement, condemning the South as a “frightened dog barking” after Seoul protested against a live-fire military exercise by the North.
According to Youngshik Bong, a research fellow at Yonsei University’s Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, the publication of political statements in Yo-jong’s name underlines her central role in the regime.
He explained to The Guardian: “It is revealing that Kim Jong-un permitted her to write and announce a scathing statement about South Korea in such a personal tone.
“He is clearly ready to allow his sister to become his alter-ego.”
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