Tensions are rising again on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea sent hundreds of balloons carrying garbage and fertilizer over South Korean towns and cities, including the runways of Seoul’s main airport.

The South Korean government responded on Tuesday. Suspending the 2018 Inter-Korean Military Agreement The aim is to reduce frontline hostilities.

The move would allow Seoul to resume large-scale military training near the border and resume propaganda broadcasts, including K-pop songs and news from border loudspeakers.

Why did North Korea send balloons filled with garbage to South Korea?

North Korea’s campaign began on Tuesday last week from Pyongyang. About 260 balloons are flying. Carrying cigarette butts, fabric scraps, waste paper and compost in South Korea. According to Yonhap news agency, airborne balloons fell across the country, including as far south as Geochang County, about 218 kilometers (135 miles) south of Seoul.

The campaign also included attempts by North Korea to jam GPS systems in South Korea.

The South Korean military described the operations as “base” and “dangerous” and deployed explosive ordnance disposal units and chemical and biological warfare response teams to inspect and collect the garbage bags. It also issued warnings warning residents to stay away and report any sightings to authorities, but later said the material tied to the balloons contained no hazardous substances.

On Wednesday, North Korea said the balloons were launched in response to an ongoing propaganda campaign by North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea, who regularly drop anti-Pyongyang leaflets, food, medicine, money and U.S. B-sticks send inflatables loaded with K-pop. Music videos and dramas across borders.

Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and a powerful official in the ruling party, issued a statement via the Korean Central News Agency, criticizing Seoul for criticizing the balloons while defending its citizens’ freedom. Shameful, brazen”. Expression. He claimed that the North Korean balloons were a “gift of sincerity” to South Koreans who “call for freedom of expression”.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to leaflets that South Korean operatives float across the border, as they contain information about the outside world and over the three generations since North Korea was founded in 1948 by Kim Il-sung. Contain criticism of the rule of the Kim dynasty.

In 2020, the Korean People’s Army was sent by Pyongyang to blow up an empty, South Korean-built liaison office on its soil in Kaesong in protest against South Korea’s civilian pamphleteering campaigns. The Inter-Korean Liaison Office was closed and evacuated during the COVID-19 pandemic in January of that year.

Seoul tried to assuage North Korea’s concerns this year, passing a law that made it a crime to send anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets, punishable by up to three years in prison or a 30 million won ($21,765) fine. . But in 2023, South Korea’s Constitutional Court struck down the legislation, calling it an excessive restriction on freedom of expression.

Is North Korea’s balloon campaign ongoing?

On Sunday, days after North Korea’s first garbage balloon arrived in South Korea, Seoul’s military said it had Collected another 700 garbage bags Sent from North Korea.

The new launch prompted South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul to convene a meeting of his National Security Council, promising “unrelenting” measures in response. The council also condemned the balloons, and simultaneous GPS jamming, as “unreasonable acts of provocation”.

Hours later, on Sunday night, North Korean Vice Defense Minister Kim Kang-il said that Pyongyang Temporarily suspended His balloon activities. He said North Korea had sent 3,500 balloons containing 15 tons of waste paper, and claimed the campaign had left South Koreans with “enough experience” of the unpleasantness and effort of removing scattered trash.

If South Korean activists want to send anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets back across the border, however, he warned that North Korea “will rapidly scatter waste paper and waste hundreds of times the number of scattered leaflets and cases”. will throw”.

The suspension seems to have come too late.

On Tuesday this week, the South Korean government scrapped the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, saying the mass balloon floats “seriously threaten the safety of our people and damage property”.

Cho Chang-rae, South Korea’s vice minister of defense for policy, said that “responsibility for this situation rests solely with North Korea”. He added: “If North Korea launches additional provocations, our military, combined with a solid South Korea-US defense posture, will punish North Korea swiftly, severely and to the end.”

What does the 2018 contract suspension mean?

The 2018 agreement was reached during a brief period of rapprochement between Kim and then-liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Under the agreement, the two countries agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other”, including propaganda broadcasts and military exercises near their heavily fortified border.

The deal is already in danger of falling apart.

Tensions escalated in November last year when South Korea, in response to North Korea’s launch of a spy satellite, announced it would partially suspend the agreement and resume aerial surveillance over its military border. will give. North Korea then announced that it was no longer bound by the agreement, and it deployed troops and weapons to guard posts that had already been dismantled.

Pyongyang has not yet reacted to Seoul’s decision to completely suspend the 2018 accord.

But South Korea’s resumption of live-fire drills or propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts would likely prompt North Korea to take similar or stronger measures on the rivals’ tense border.

Source link