Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has warned South Korea to stop propaganda leaflets coming over the border, warning it could wreck an agreement to reduce military tensions.
Her statement came after anti-Pyongyang leaflets were sent across the border earlier this week by a group of North Korean defectors. The leaflets concealed in 500,000 balloons criticised Kim Jong-un’s nuclear threats, according to the Yonhap news agency. Previous messages have also condemned North Korea’s human rights record.
Kim Yo-jong, who has risen to prominence in the past two years, said Pyongyang would consider cancelling the agreement, signed by the countries’ leaders in 2018, if activists continued to send “anti-North Korean” leaflets to the northern side of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the heavily armed border that has separated the two Koreas since the end of their 1950-53 war.
“If such an act of evil intention committed before our eyes is left to take its own course under the pretext of ‘freedom of individuals’ and ‘freedom of expression’, the South Korean authorities must face the worst phase shortly,” she said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
“Clearly speaking, the South Korean authorities will be forced to pay a dear price if they let this situation go on while making sort of excuses.”
There is, however, little the South Korean government can do to prevent private groups from sending messages critical of North Korea over the border.
Kim Yo-jong, who holds a senior position in the ruling Workers’ party and serves as her brother’s de factor chief of staff, said more leafleting could prompt Pyongyang to walk away from the Panmunjom declaration, which includes an agreement to cease “all hostile acts, including the loudspeaker broadcasting and scattering of leaflets” along the DMZ. She said the deal, signed by Kim Jong-un and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, during their third summit in September 2018, was “hardly of any value”, according to KCNA.
Referring to the defectors as “mongrel dogs” and “human scum,” Kim Yo-jong said the propaganda bombardment could also force the North to completely withdraw from an industrial complex in Kaesong, just north of the DMZ, and to shut down a joint liaison office in the town.
Kaesong, which relied on tens of thousands of North Korean workers and South Korean investment and technology, has been inactive since February 2016 when the South’s conservative government withdrew staff and funding in protest at a North Korean rocket launch and nuclear test.
The complex, 10km (six miles) north of the DMZ, opened in 2004 and was hailed as an important step towards economic cooperation and reconciliation. The liaison office, which opened in September 2018 to reduce tensions, has been closed since January after the two Koreas agreed to temporarily shut it down during the coronavirus outbreak.
The KCNA report did not name the defectors responsible for sending leaflets, but Kim’s warning comes a few weeks after two prominent defectors, including the former deputy ambassador at the North Korean embassy in London, won seats in the South Korean national assembly.