South Korea suspends military pact with North over trash balloons

South Korea is planning to suspend a 2018 pact with North Korea aimed at lowering military tensions amid a conflict over balloons launched by Pyongyang carrying trash to the South.

This comes as North Korea announced that it will stop sending trash balloons across the border, provided Seoul discontinued its anti-North leaflet campaign.

South Korea’s National Security Council announced plans to propose suspending the military agreement for approval by the cabinet on Tuesday. This suspension would enable the South to conduct training near the military border and take immediate measures in response to North Korea’s provocations.

South Korea has warned of severe actions against North Korea in response to the latter’s sending of trash-filled balloons across the border.

The balloons were launched by North Korea reportedly in retaliation to a propaganda campaign by defectors and activists in the South, who regularly send inflatables containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets with food, medicine, money and USB sticks loaded with K-pop music videos and dramas across the border.

North Korea launched about 600 rubbish-filled balloons towards its southern neighbour on Saturday night, hitting South Korea with payloads of cigarette butts, scraps of cloth, waste paper and vinyl.

It follows a similar campaign a few days earlier, meaning that since last Tuesday, the North has sent over a total of around 800 trash balloons, spreading rubbish across the South Korean capital Seoul.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong called the balloons “sincere presents”.

The office of South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol called the balloons “dirty provocations no normal country would think of”, and vowed that his country would take retaliatory “steps that North Korea would find unbearable”.

Meanwhile, Kim Kang-il, a North Korean vice defence minister, was quoted as saying by state media KCNA that the nation was suspending its trash-filled balloons to the South. “We made the ROK (Republic of Korea) clans get enough experience of how unpleasant they feel and how much effort is needed to remove the scattered waste paper,” he said.

He stated that should South Korean activists release more anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets via balloons, North Korea will retaliate by resuming its own balloon releases, dumping rubbish hundreds of times the quantity of the South Korean leaflets found in North Korea.

In November last year, North Korea withdrew from a historic defence pact after it successfully launched a spy satellite into orbit.

Additional reporting with agencies.