North Korea declared today that it is cutting off all inter-Korean military communication lines and suspending the activities of communication liaison offices.
According to Chosun Central News Agency, the North Korean officer who delivered the message by telephone at 11:20AM on Wednesday declared, “In the situation where a war may break out any moment, there is no need to keep the North-South military communication lines that were laid between the militaries of both sides.”
Therefore, “I, upon authorization, inform the south side that from this moment North-South military communications will be cut off and the members of the North side in the military communications liaison office in the zone under the control of the North and the South in the west coastal area will stop their activities.”
“This step will be implemented for as long as the South side’s anachronistic, hostile acts against [North Korea] go on,” he added.
The notification also warned that in the absence of lines of communication between the two sides, “The will of the army and people of [North Korea] to safeguard the sovereignty and the supreme dignity of the country will be displayed through practical physical counteraction.”
This is not the first time that North Korea has cut communications lines across the DMZ, strategically aware that severed communications will be taken by outsiders as a serious indicator of possible miscommunication leading to military escalation. However, the step does have the ability to affect the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Hundreds of South Koreans enter and leave the area daily, and their safe transit across the Military Demarcation Line is ordinarily accomplished via the military communications system.
In 2009, North Korea also stopped using the military system, nominally in protest at joint ROK-U.S. ‘Key Resolve-Foal Eagle’ military exercises, causing transit to and from the Kaesong Complex to cease for around 30 hours. However, at that time officials working in the complex were able to liaise between the two militaries using an alternate communications line in order to get permission for workers to start crossing the border once again.
So far, transit to and from the Kaesong Complex this time is operating as normal, and no problems are likely for at least 48 hours. 457 South Korean citizens crossed the border into the Kaesong Complex this morning, while 468 returned this afternoon at 5PM. According to the Ministry of Unification, “As it stands the enterprises in the Kaesong Complex are operating normally, and there are no problems for the 751 workers who are residing there.”
However, the Ministry of Unification did also concede, “This measure is not helpful for the stable operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.”