Thursday, February 22, 2024

‘Bold’: North Korea berates Seoul for doubting zero cases of COVID-19 | North Korea

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Kim Yo Jong warns that the assertion could worsen the already strained ties between the two Koreas.

North Korea condemned South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha for questioning his claim that the country has not had a coronavirus outbreak, saying it will “pay dearly” for his comments and warning that already strained ties across the Korean Peninsula could worsen, state media said Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum over the weekend, Kang said the North had not responded to calls for cooperation on COVID-19, and that it was “hard to believe” the country did had no illnesses.

North Korea has officially confirmed no infections, although it said there have been thousands of “suspected cases”.

“From reckless remarks she made without any consideration of the consequences, it appears that she is too eager to further cool frozen relations between North and South Korea,” Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister Kim Jong Un said in a statement released by the official KCNA news agency.

“We will never forget her words and she may have to pay dearly,” said Kim, who is a top official in the ruling Workers’ Party and considered “de facto” second in command.

Inter-Korean relations have called since leaders of the two Koreas held three summits in 2018 [File: KCNA via KNS/AFP]

Relations between the North and the South have cooled since South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un held three summits in 2018. In June, the North exploded the inter-Korean liaison office following a series of warnings from Kim Yo Jong on the propaganda leaflets and murder a South Korean fisheries official in September added to the tension.

KCNA said last week that North Korea had imposed “first-rate emergency measures” and Pyongyang placed on the highest level of alert against the coronavirus. The activities of public facilities, including restaurants and public baths, have been suspended and the movement of people in the capital restricted.

Discussions blocked

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service said an outbreak in the north could not be ruled out as the isolated country had trade and people-to-people exchanges with China, where the virus emerged a year ago, before the border is sealed at the end of January.

The KCNA report was released as US Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, dispatched to Washington for North Korea, held talks on what may be his last trip to the country with US President Donald Trump who was due to step down after losing the election last month.

Discussions on denuclearization were stalled for months following a failed 2019 summit between Kim and Trump, which Moon had offered to mediate.

Anti-virus measures have been stepped up in the North Korean capital, although the country says it has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 [Jon Chol Jin/AP Photo]

Talks between Biegun and southern officials, which take place on Wednesday, were likely to focus on alliance cooperation and nuclear diplomacy, according to the Yonhap news agency. Biegun is due to meet with the Southern Unification Minister on Thursday and Kang on Friday.

A new US administration headed by President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. Pyongyang has not released any official response to the recent US election.


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