North Korea says to cut UN-based channel to US in protest over sanctions

People bow as they pay their respects to the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, at Mansu hill in Pyongyang, on July 7, 2016.
People bow as they pay their respects to the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, at Mansu hill in Pyongyang, on July 7, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea said on Monday (July 11) that it would close one of the last remaining channels of communication with the United States in protest at sanctions on leader Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses.

The North's foreign ministry notified the US government that it would effectively halt all communications with Washington through the North's office at the United Nations in New York, state-run KCNA said.

"We...have notified the US that we would completely end all official communications through New York," it said.

The North's UN office has long served as a rare avenue of formal and informal communications with the US including past talks on nuclear disarmament in the North.

In the message sent through its UN office on Sunday, Pyongyang said all bilateral issues would be handled based on its wartime laws from now on, including two Americans currently detained in the North.

Mr Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old college student, was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in March for stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel. Korean-American missionary Kim Dong Chul is also serving a jail term on charges of subversion and espionage.

"We have notified the US that the US would be entirely held responsible for all unfortunate developments that may occur in the future," the KCNA said without elaborating.

The warnings came days after the North slammed the new US sanctions targeting Mr Kim as a "declaration of a war" and vowed to take strong retaliatory measures.

The latest sanctions, which described Mr Kim as directly responsible for a long list of serious human rights abuses, are the first that name the leader of the isolated, nuclear-armed state.

Pyongyang, in its first reaction published last Thursday, urged Washington to retract the sanctions, warning that it would otherwise cut off "every lever and channel for diplomatic contact" between the two countries.