North Korea severs military hotline to South


Kim Jong Un inspects a long-range artillery sub-unit of Korean People's Army Unit 641 at undisclosed location in North Korea on March 12, 2013.



SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has severed its last remaining military hotline to South Korea, citing the escalating tensions on the peninsula as its reason and causing yet more international worry over the possibility of a violent confrontation between the two states.

"The Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army solemnly declared that... Due to the reckless acts of the enemies, the north-south military communications which were set up for dialogue and cooperation between the north and the south has [sic] already lost its significance," the Yonhap News Agency reported North Korea's Central News Agency as saying.

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South Korea is concerned the North's decision to cut the hotline will affect the operations of the Kaesong industrial park, a joint operation between the North and South.

The military hotline was often used to allow the two countries to communicate about the trans-border travel of workers and cargo to and from the park, where South Korean companies employ cheap North Korean labor.

The New York Times reported that Kaesong park operations appeared to be operating as normal on Wednesday, indicating that North Korea's increasingly cold shoulder to the South did not extend to economic exchange so far.

North Korea earlier this month disconnected a Red Cross hotline that was routed through the neutral village of Panmunjom.

Pyongyang issued direct threats to US military bases on Tuesday, claiming that field artillery unites targeting US bases would be put into "combat duty posture" — a claim that analysts are taking unusually seriously in the wake of increasing tension.

However, the latest hotline shutdown won't necessarily lead to an escalation of the conflict, analysts say. They've pointed out that North Korea has a habit of shutting down communication lines when the war threats become heated. Pyongyang shut down the Red Cross line in 2008, when a new presidential administration was taking power in Seoul and Pyongyang tested its resolve.

Government officials have not said how the Kaesong park zone will continue to operate without communications lines. But experts say it's an important source of foreign currency for a cash-strapped regime.