South Korea to freeze key military deal with Pyongyang amid balloon spat

Seoul will set aside agreement after North Korea sent multiple balloons filled with rubbish across border.

South Korean soldiers looking at debris from a North Korean balloon. They have visors and protective suits. The area is cordoned off behind yellow tape.
South Korean soldiers examine the contents of one of the North Korean balloons [Yonhap via Reuters]

South Korea is set to suspend a 2018 military agreement with its northern neighbour after a North Korean campaign that saw balloons carrying rubbish sent over the border.

The National Security Council of South Korea said on Monday that it would present a plan to fully suspend the deal for approval to the cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday. The key military agreement was partially frozen last year.

The council said continued compliance with the deal would present “considerable problems in our military’s readiness posture”. Suspending the agreement would allow the country to conduct training near the military border and take unspecified “immediate measures” if necessary, it added.

The deal, the most important agreement to come out of months of historic meetings between the two Koreas during a thaw in relations during the presidency of Moon Jae-in in the South, was partially suspended by Seoul last year after North Korea put its first spy satellite into orbit.

Pyongyang announced after that that it also would no longer abide by the agreement.

Rubbish talk

The full suspension of the agreement comes after North Korea sent hundreds of balloons carrying rubbish and even animal faeces – branded as “gifts of sincerity” – across the border to its southern neighbour.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has emerged as a forthright spokesperson for Pyongyang, mocked South Korea for complaining about the balloons this week. North Koreans were simply exercising their freedom of expression, she declared.

However, Pyongyang said on Sunday that it would stop sending the balloons as they had already proved their effectiveness against South Korean “propaganda”.

It says the campaign was a response to balloons stuffed with anti-Pyongyang leaflets and at times cash, food or USB drives loaded with K-dramas or pop music, sent by activists in South Korea.

After a meeting of the National Security Council on Sunday, a presidential official said Seoul would not rule out responding to the North Korean balloons by resuming previous loudspeaker propaganda campaigns along the border targeting Kim Jong Un.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies