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North Korean dirty balloons blow up peace deal with South

South Korea announced Monday that it would suspend a military agreement signed with North Korea to punish Kim Jong Un’s regime for sending waves of balloons carrying garbage and excrement across the border.

Nearly 1,000 balloons have floated south across the fortified border separating the Korean Peninsula since Thursday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, provoking a furious response from Seoul, which vowed Sunday to take action “unbearable” reprisals. North Korea announced it would stop sending balloons hours after the threat over the weekend, but the South is now prepared to take punitive measures regardless.

South Korea’s National Security Council announced it would suspend a 2018 inter-Korean agreement that aimed to reduce tensions along the border. The presidential council said Tuesday it would seek cabinet approval to suspend the deal and noted that the suspension would allow South Korea’s military to conduct exercises near the border.

The agreement will remain suspended “until mutual trust between the two Koreas is restored,” the presidential office said.

The deal was reached after months of summit negotiations between the two countries in 2018, but it has been on the verge of collapse since North Korea launched a spy satellite in November. South Korea partially suspended the agreement by resuming border surveillance flights, and Pyongyang further accelerated the breakdown of the agreement with artillery firing exercises near its western maritime border with the South in January .

Although the agreement required both sides to stop hostile acts against each other, it did not explicitly prohibit the distribution of leaflets to civilians, according to the Associated Press. That means South Korean activists were able to continue sending balloons across the northern border with anti-regime leaflets and USB drives containing global information, provoking fury in Pyongyang.

Balloons from the North began arriving in the South last week after Kim Kang Il, North Korea’s vice defense minister, accused Seoul of “scattering leaflets and various dirty things near the border area” and promised to take “tact for tat measures” in response.

On Sunday, he said North Korea had “scattered 15 tons of waste paper, the favorite toy of human scum, over the border areas” of South Korea. Kim Kang Il said Pyongyang would now “stop” the campaign because the South now had “enough experience” about how “unpleasant” the balloons are and “how much effort” it takes to clean them.

If the South continues with its own balloons, he added, “we will respond with intensive dispersal of waste paper and trash a hundred times more scattered leaflets and cases, as we have already warned.”

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