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SEOUL, South Korea: The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened military action against South Korea as she lasked out in Seoul on Saturday for straining bilateral relations and her inability to prevent militants from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.
Describing South Korea as an “enemy,” Kim Yo Jong reiterated an earlier threat she had made by saying that Seoul would soon witness the collapse of an “unnecessary” inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong.
Kim, who is the first deputy head of the department of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, said she would leave it to North Korean military leaders to north Korea to carry out the next stage of retaliation against the South.
“By exercising my power authorized by the supreme leader, our party and the state, I have instructed the arms of the department in charge of affairs with the enemy to take decisive action,” she said in a statement carried by North Korea’s official Central News Agency.
“If I drop a hint of our next plan that the (South Korean) authorities are concerned about, the right to take the next steps against the enemy will be entrusted to our army staff,” she said. “Our army, too, will determine something to calm the resentment of our people and will surely realize it, I believe.”
Kim’s harsh rhetoric demonstrates his high status in North Korea’s leadership. Already considered the country’s most powerful woman and her brother’s closest confidant, state media recently confirmed that she is now in charge of relations with South Korea.
The Kaesong Liaison Office, closed since January due to coronavirus problems, was set up following one of the key agreements reached at three summits between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018.
Moon’s government had lobbied for nuclear summits between Kim and President Donald Trump, which have met three times since 2018. At the same time, Moon has also worked to improve inter-Korean relations.
But North Korea has suspended almost all of its cooperation with the South in recent months while expressing frustration at the lack of progress in its nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Over the past week, the North has said it will cut off all government and military communication channels with the South and has threatened to abandon the main inter-Korean peace agreements concluded by their leaders in 2018.
These include a military agreement in which the Koreas have pledged to take joint steps to reduce conventional military threats, such as the establishment of border buffer zones and no-fly zones. They also removed some front-line guard posts and jointly inspected a waterway near their western border in the event of an undurned plan to allow for freer civilian navigation.
In a statement last week, Kim Yo Jong said the North would abandon the military agreement, “which has virtually no value,” while calling North Korean defectors who send South leaflets “human scum” and “mongrel dogs.”
His comments on Saturday came hours after a senior North Korean foreign ministry official said Seoul should abandon “absurd” talks on the North’s denuclearization, and that his country would continue to expand its military capabilities to counter what it sees as U.S. threats.
In response to North Korea’s anger at the leaflets, the South Korean government said it would file a complaint against two groups of defectors who have led protests at the border.
The South also said it would push new laws to ban activists from flying leaflets across the border, but there has been criticism as to whether Moon’s government is sacrificing democratic principles to keep alive its ambitions for inter-Korean engagement.
For years, activists have thrown huge balloons into North Korea, carrying leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and his dismal human rights record. The distribution of leaflets has at times triggered a furious reaction from North Korea, which is furious at any attempt to undermine its leadership.
While Seoul has sometimes sent police to block activists during sensitive times, it had previously resisted Calls from North Korea to ban them altogether, saying they were exercising their freedom. Activists have pledged to continue launching balloons.
But it is unlikely that North Korea’s belligerence will only concern leaflets, analysts say.
The North has a long history of putting pressure on the South when it does not get what it wants from the United States. His threats to abandon inter-Korean agreements came after months of frustration at Seoul’s refusal to defy U.S.-led sanctions and revive joint economic projects.
Some experts say that North Korea, which mobilized people for mass protests condemning defectors, is deliberately censoring the South to rally its public and divert attention from a bad economy, which probably worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is not clear what kind of military action the North would take against the South, although weapons testing is an easy assumption. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far East Studies, said North Korea could also “plan something” near the country’s disputed western maritime border, which has sometimes been the scene of bloody clashes over the years.
Nuclear talks failed at Kim Jong Un’s second summit with Mr. Trump in Vietnam in February last year, after the United States rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Trump and Kim met for the third time that year in June at the North-South Korean border and agreed to resume talks. But a working meeting in Sweden in October collapsed on what the North Koreans described as the “old position and attitude” of the Americans.
On the second anniversary of the first Kim-Trump meeting, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said Friday that the North would never again give Trump high-profile meetings that he could tout as foreign policy achievements unless he gets something substantial in return.

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