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South Korea to suspend inter

Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo speaks during a press briefing at the presidential office in Yongsan District,<strong></strong> Seoul, May 30. Yonhap

Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo speaks during a press briefing at the presidential office in Yongsan District, Seoul, May 30. Yonhap

'NK balloon halt unrelated to loudspeaker resumption'By Kwak Yeon-soo, Lee Hyo-jin

The National Security Council (NSC) decided Monday to suspend the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement in response to North Korea's sending of trash-filled balloons over the border.

The presidential office convened an NSC standing committee meeting led by Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo to discuss ways to respond to Pyongyang's recent series of provocations that caused tangible damage and posed security threats to South Koreans.

South and North Korea signed the inter-Korean military agreement to halt all hostile acts against each other to reduce tensions along the inter-Korean border following an inter-Korean summit in September 2018. The agreement bans all hostile acts within a buffer zone of 135 kilometers over the West Sea border and 80 kilometers into the East Sea.

However, North Korea sent nearly 1,000 balloons carrying trash into South Korea, jammed GPS signals and launched short-range ballistic missiles last week.

"We decided to submit a proposal to suspend the Sept. 19 military agreement during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. This measure will allow us to carry out military training near the Military Demarcation Line and enable us to take adequate and immediate responses to North Korean provocations. The government will take all necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of our citizens," the presidential office said in a statement.

This comes a day after National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin warned that the government will take "unbearable measures" against North Korea in response to its sending of the trash balloons. They included resuming loudspeaker broadcasts carrying news critical of the North Korean regime along the inter-Korean border. North Korea is extremely sensitive to such broadcasts due to the possible effects on its military and the general public.

Hours after the warning, North Korea said it would temporarily stop sending trash-filled balloons into South Korea, claiming that its campaign left the South Koreans with "enough experience of how unpleasant they feel." However, it also threatened to resume such operations if Seoul sent more anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets.

Military officers check debris from North Korean balloons filled with trash in Incheon, Sunday. Yonhap

Military officers check debris from North Korean balloons filled with trash in Incheon, Sunday. Yonhap

Experts said North Korea's suspension of balloon launches comes after reaching its goal of sparking confusion and security worries in South Korea, playing down the possibility that Seoul's warning to resume loudspeaker broadcasts may have played a part in their decision to halt such activities.

"I wouldn't say loudspeaker broadcast was the reason North Korea halted sending trash-carrying balloons. I think it was their mistake to send a second wave of balloons because there was no provocative action from South Korea, such as sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets between Tuesday (when Pyongyang sent the first wave of balloons) and Saturday. I believe Defense Minister Shin Won-sik's remarks at Shangri-La Dialogue angered the North, leading them to react emotionally. They realized that they may have gone too far," said Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.

Yang Moo-jin, the president of the University of North Korean Studies, said the situation is not yet over as the North hinted that they may resume sending trash-carrying balloons at any time if South Korean activists send more anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

"North Korea is in a wait-and-see mode as they have reached their primary goal of sparking confusion and internal division. They also gained valuable lessons as to how far the balloons can go depending on the wind direction and speed," Yang said.

Experts said the next step would be critical as to whether the rights group will send the leaflets toward the North.

Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for Free North Korea, said his group will resume leaflet operations if winds blow in a northern direction. "We might consider halting sending leaflets to the North if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un apologizes for sending balloons carrying trash to the South," he said.

Meanwhile, The Ministry of Unification said it will not urge civic groups to refrain from sending leaflets across the border.

"We are handling the situation by taking into account the Constitutional Court's ruling that says the leaflet launches are an issue of guaranteeing freedom of expression," the ministry's spokesperson said during a press briefing.

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