Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, has threatened to scrap a military agreement with South Korea and close down a cross-border liaison office unless Seoul stops activists from launching balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border.
Responding to Thursday’s warning, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Seoul planned to push new laws to ban the leaflet protests.
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Activists have sent balloons carrying leaflets criticising North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and human rights abuses for years, but Pyongyang considers the tactic an attack on its government.
In recent weeks, about 500,000 leaflets have been dumped along the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea. They criticised North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un for threatening to take “shocking actual action with a strategic nuclear weapon”, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“The South Korean authorities will be forced to pay a dear price if they let this situation go on while making all sort of excuses,” said Kim Yo Jong, who serves unofficially as her brother’s chief of staff.
Her warning was issued in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
South Korea said many of the leaflets fell on its side of the border and it was working on legislation to stop the practice, which usually involves North Korean defectors.
“Taking into consideration relevant circumstances comprehensively, the government has already been mulling effective regulatory improvement measures to fundamentally prevent such tension-causing acts near the border,” Yonhap quoted unification ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key as saying.
Calling the defectors “human scum” and “rubbish-like mongrel dogs” who betrayed their homeland, Kim Yo Jong said it was “time to bring their owners to account” in a reference to the South Korean government.
Pact at risk
She went on to warn of the possible scrapping of the inter-Korean military agreement that promised to eliminate practical threats of war as a result of the clandestine leafletting.
The military pact reached in 2018 was “hardly of any value”, she said.
Seoul has touted the military agreement, reached during the third summit between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as a major step in the peace process.
Under the pact, the Koreas had agreed to jointly search for human remains from the 1950-53 Korean War and take steps to reduce conventional military threats, such as establishing buffer and no-fly zones.
But with the larger nuclear talks with the US in deadlock, Pyongyang has been less enthusiastic about upholding inter-Korean agreements as the larger nuclear talks.
Operations at the liaison office have already been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Pyongyang has carried out dozens of weapons tests since the military agreement was signed.
Kim Yo Jong also threatened to pull out permanently from joint projects with the South including the Kaesong industrial zone and Mount Kumgang tours – both of which have been suspended for years due to sanctions over its weapons programmes.
“If they truly value the (North-South) agreements and have a will to thoroughly implement them, they should clear their house of rubbish,” said Kim Yo Jong, who is considered her brother’s closest confidant.
South Korea has sometimes sent police officers to block such activities during times of high tension, but it has previously resisted Pyongyang’s calls to fully ban them, saying the activists were exercising their freedoms.
This time the unification ministry said the balloon campaigns were threatening the safety of residents living in the border area and contributing towards pollution.