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Leaflet campaign 'overshadows' inter

A group of defectors fly balloons containing anti-North Korea leaflets at a border village of Paju,<strong></strong> Gyeonggi Province in this photo taken on April 2016. / Yonhap
A group of defectors fly balloons containing anti-North Korea leaflets at a border village of Paju, Gyeonggi Province in this photo taken on April 2016. / Yonhap

By Yi Whan-woo

The latest anti-North Korea leaflet campaign led by a group of defectors, May 31, is prompting speculation that it may interfere with the resumption of inter-Korean relations.

While Pyongyang has been sensitive about the campaign, a series of criticisms came last week from the North Korean dictator's younger sister and closet confidant Kim Yo-jong.

She threatened to scrap the cross-border military agreement signed on Sept. 19, 2018, and that corresponding measures should be taken if the South wants to prevent it from happening.

This was followed by Pyongyang's inter-Korean governing body Unified Front Department (UFD) which pledged to shut down the joint liaison office, and propaganda website Uriminzokkiri publishing a criticism of President Moon Jae-in's hope for a cycle of improvement on cross-border ties and Pyongyang-Washington ties.

The military agreement and joint liaison office were all part of the outcomes of Moon's three summits with Kim Jong-un between April 2018 and September 2018.

"Whether flying the leaflets across the border is in violation of the Sept. 19 military agreement does not matter. What matters is that Kim Yo-jong found the campaign problematic and that the North can scrap the agreement," said An Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies and a former North Korean soldier who defected in 1979.

An referred to UFD referring to Kim Yo-jong, the first deputy director of the Workers' Party, as responsible for inter-Korean affairs.

South Korean and U.S. diplomats also took note of Pyongyang's criticism being delivered by Kim Yo-jong during their working-level dialogue, according to a diplomatic source, Sunday.

"The consensus between the two allies is that Kim's rapidly emerging political status and presence is hard to go unnoticed," the source said.

The Sept. 19 military agreement designated Military Demarcation Line (MDL), Northern Limit Line and other borderlines as "buffer zones" to prevent all types of hostilities on land, sea and air.

The deal bans the flight of any air vehicle within the buffer zone extending 25 kilometers south and north of the MDL.

The Ministry of National Defense said balloons containing leaflets are not for military use and the anti-Pyongyang leaflet campaign should not be seen as a breach of the military agreement.

But it also said the campaign still "heightens the tensions on the borderline" and that any acts jeopardizing people's lives and property should be suspended.

The Ministry of Unification separately said it is preparing a bill banning such campaigns.

"The government's stance may stir a controversy over freedom of speech and overlooking North Korean human rights," said An, adding this may trigger an internal division within the South over the future direction of cross-border dialogue.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with Pyongyang said the secretive state has found the leaflet campaign more sensitive as its methods have been evolving and that the leaflets reach "deep inside North Korean territory."


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