North Korea escalates military threats in defector leaflet spat

Military says it will re-enter border areas demilitarised under a 2018 inter-Korean pact if leaflet campaigns continue.

South Korea borders
South Korean soldiers on patrol near the border with North Korea on Monday as Pyongyang steps up threats over defectors' leaflets [Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo]

North Korea’s army will re-enter border areas demilitarised under a peace pact with South Korea if defector groups there continue with their campaign to send propaganda leaflets across the border, state media said on Tuesday.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said it has been studying an “action plan” to re-enter zones that had been demilitarised under a 2018 inter-Korean pact and “turn the front line into a fortress.”

“Our army will rapidly and thoroughly implement any decisions and orders of the Party and government,” the KPA said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Tensions have risen over the leaflets, which are usually sent across the border by balloon and carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with Pyongyang threatening to sever inter-Korean ties and take retaliatory measures.

Seoul’s defence ministry called for Pyongyang to abide by the 2018 agreement, in which both sides promised to end “all hostile acts” and dismantled a number of structures along the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone between the two countries.

‘Maintaining readiness’

“We’re taking the situation seriously,” ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing. “Our military is maintaining readiness posture to be able to respond to any situation.”

Several defector-led groups send leaflets, together with food, one-dollar bills, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news, over the border and have said they will continue with their planned campaign this week despite the North Korean threats and South Korea saying it will take legal action.

On Saturday, Kim Yo Jong, who serves as a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party and is Kim’s sister, said she ordered the military to prepare for unspecified “next action”.

South Korea said the defector groups’ actions increase cross-border tensions, pose risks to residents living near the border and cause environmental damage. The sending of leaflets across the border was also banned under the 2018 agreement.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in urged Pyongyang on Monday to keep peace agreements reached by the two leaders and return to dialogue.

Source: Reuters