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South Korea to suspend inter-Korean military pact over trash balloons

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a military parade on April 15, 2017. Kim warned of a "new strategic weapon" the world would see in 2020. (Yonhap News/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)
June 04, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

South Korea decided on Monday to suspend a 2018 inter-Korean tension reduction pact until “mutual trust is restored” in a response to North Korea’s sending of nearly 1,000 trash-filled balloons to the South. 

The 9/19 Comprehensive Military Agreement, signed on Sept. 19, 2018, aimed at defusing tension and avoiding war, was implemented after a meeting between South Korea’s then-president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The presidential National Security Council held a meeting to evaluate North Korea’s recent behavior and agreed to propose a motion suspending the agreement at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“The attendees decided to submit a proposal to suspend the entire effectiveness of the September 19 Military Agreement until mutual trust between the two Koreas is restored,” the presidential office said in a release. 

North Korea has sent waves of trash-filled balloons into the South since Thursday in what it said was a tit-for-tat campaign against South Korean activists sending balloons carrying propaganda material denouncing the North’s regime.

South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin said on Sunday the government would take “unbearable” measures against the North in response to its balloons and its jamming of GPS signals last week. 

The anger over the balloons has raised speculation that South Korea might resume propaganda campaigns via loudspeakers along the border. The loudspeakers used to air criticism of the Kim Jong Un regime’s human rights abuses, as well as news and K-pop songs, to the fury of the North.

To resume the front-line broadcasts, it would be necessary to nullify the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement.

Hours after South Korea’s warning, North Korea said it would suspend its cross-border balloon campaign, though it also threatened to resume it if anti-Pyongyang leaflets were sent from South Korea.

The North said its balloon campaign was launched purely in response to leaflets sent by South Korean activists.

Fighters for a Free North Korea, a Seoul-based organization that floated anti-Pyongyang balloons over the North last month, said on Monday that it would consider stopping sending leaflets only if the North apologized for sending its trash-bearing balloons to the South. 

“We send facts, loves, medications, one-dollar bills, dramas and trot music to the North, but how come they send us waste and trash?” the organization said in a statement, referring to a type of Korean music. 

“North Korea leader Kim Jong Un should immediately apologize.”