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South Korea-North Korea Military Pact Imperiled by Balloons

Photo : AFP

Seoul announced its decision to fully suspend a 2018 military pact with North Korea following Pyongyang's recent provocative act of sending hundreds of balloons filled with trash across the border. The South Korean National Security Council (NSC) declared the suspension, aiming to restore mutual trust between the two Koreas.

Last year, Seoul had already partially suspended the agreement after North Korea launched a spy satellite into orbit. However, the recent escalation prompted a complete suspension of the pact, known as the "September 19 Military Agreement."

Pyongyang's balloon campaign, which included sending nearly a thousand balloons carrying garbage such as cigarette butts and potentially manure, was purportedly retaliation for anti-regime propaganda disseminated by activists in South Korea. Despite labeling the act as "irrational" and "low-class," South Korea clarified that the trash campaign did not breach UN sanctions against North Korea.

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North Korea declared the end of the balloon bombardment on Sunday, citing its effectiveness as a countermeasure. However, it warned of further actions if deemed necessary.

The 2018 military deal was signed during a period of improved relations between the two Koreas, aiming to reduce tensions and prevent accidental escalation along the heavily fortified border. However, North Korea's refusal to honor the agreement following Seoul's partial suspension last year rendered it effectively null and void, according to the NSC.

The decision to suspend the pact will enable South Korea to conduct military training near the Military Demarcation Line and respond more promptly to North Korean provocations. The cabinet is set to approve the decision in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Relations between the two Koreas have deteriorated significantly, with diplomacy stalled and North Korea intensifying weapons testing. South Korea's decision to terminate the tension-reducing agreement underscores its stance against provocative actions from the North.

Concerns have been raised regarding Seoul's ability to physically block the balloons drifting southward and the potential for escalating tensions. While South Korea considers various responses, including the resumption of loudspeaker propaganda campaigns along the border, experts caution against actions that could further aggravate the situation and lead to border skirmishes.

June 3, 2024 3:16 p.m. 337

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