Kim’s Sister Warns of Further Reprisals as Trash Balloons Fly Over Border

(Bloomberg) -- The sister of North Korea’s leader warned of reprisals against South Korea after it resumed loudspeaker broadcasts for the first time in years, signaling an escalation of tensions along one of the world’s most militarized borders.

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Kim Yo Jong said there could be a “new counteraction” due to the loudspeakers and activist groups sending leaflets across the border that criticize the Kim family’s rule. She is the younger sister of leader Kim Jong Un and has been the point person for pressure campaigns against Seoul and Washington.

“This is a prelude to a very dangerous situation,” the official Korean Central News Agency on Monday quoted her as saying. The statement amounts to a public airing of grievances against the government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, wrapped in the warning of increased friction.

Tensions rose late last month when North Korea began sending hundreds of balloons carrying trash over the border after complaining about South Korea conducting surveillance flights. The move also appeared to be in response to South Korean activists earlier in May sending balloons into North Korea that contained anti-Pyongyang messaging.

Millions of leaflets sent by South Korean activists and defectors from North Korea have flown across the border for more than a decade, bearing messages critical of North Korea’s leaders. With hundreds of thousands of troops facing each other along a buffer that divides the peninsula, there is always a risk of escalation.

In a recent move that stoked Pyongyang’s anger, a group in South Korea led by defectors from North Korea floated 10 large helium balloons north across the border starting Thursday last week carrying about 200,000 leaflets criticizing the Kim regime, US dollar bills and USB sticks containing K-pop music.

Last week, Yoon’s government halted a 2018 border deal aimed at reducing tensions due to the North Korean trash balloons and resumed activities once banned under the deal, which include the use of loudspeakers. South Korea’s military Sunday began the broadcasts, blasting its “Voice of Freedom” radio program run by the Defense Ministry’s psychological warfare unit, Yonhap News reported. The two Koreas in 2018 halted loudspeaker broadcasts under the border deal.

South Korea did not turn on the loudspeakers Monday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, adding North Korea appears to be setting up loudspeakers on its side of border.

North Korea, which had temporarily scrapped its balloon campaign, began flying them again over the weekend — sending more than 300 south, South Korea’s military said. Kim’s regime had sent more than 1,000 balloons previously carrying items such as waste paper, cigarette butts, shoe parts and used batteries.

Separately, the US and South Korea held talks in Seoul on Monday for their bilateral Nuclear Consultative Group, which was set up last year as a way to coordinate deterrence against the threats posed by Pyongyang. The two sides announced the completion of a review of a joint guideline document but didn’t offer details, citing security concerns.

(Updates with US, South Korea meeting in final paragraph and details on loudspeakers.)

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