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Bad neighbors on the Korean Peninsula

International | North Korea reneges on several peace resolutions
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/26/20, 05:31 pm

The North Korean military on Tuesday reinstalled about 20 loudspeakers along the Demilitarized Zone with South Korea, suggesting a return to psychological warfare. Pyongyang has spent the past several weeks backpedaling on many peace agreements it reached with its southern neighbor in 2018.

The two nations used to blast content over loudspeakers along the border in an effort to drown out each other. South Korea played pop songs and critical messages, while North Korea praised its socialist system and hurled insults against the South. Relations on the Korean Peninsula improved in April 2018 following a summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two countries took down about 40 loudspeakers as part of a pact to halt all hostile acts and military tensions. The meetings also resulted in now-stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

But things began heating up again on June 9. Activists in the South, joined by defectors from the North, sent balloons and bottles across the border carrying leaflets, rice, money, and other items. The flyers criticized North Korea’s human rights record and nuclear aspirations. In response, North Korea shut down all communication lines between the nations’ militaries and presidential offices, which it said was the first step of cutting all contact with the South. Pyongyang accused South Korean leadership of violating the 2018 agreement by refusing to stop the leaflets.

South Korea said it would pursue charges against two activist groups responsible for sending the balloons. Some activists have continued anyway. North Korea threatened to use 3,000 balloons and other equipment to send some 12 million of its own leaflets over the border if the activists continue. “The time for retaliatory punishment is drawing near,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency noted.

Last week, North Korea blew up the joint liaison office the two countries had opened in 2018. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, threatened military action against the South. But the North started softening its tone on Wednesday. The country’s news agency reported that Kim held a video conference with the military and postponed planned aggression against the South.

“This bout of criticism towards South Korea was clearly highly orchestrated,” said Cristina Varriale, a research fellow at the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute. “It is also an opportunity to test President Moon Jae-in’s commitment to his inter-Korean engagement policy and his alliance commitments to the U.S.”

Victor Cha and Sue Mi Terry at the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained the propaganda campaign likely will not end with South Korea. U.S. and North Korean officials have failed to reach a denuclearization deal since the last of several historic summits on Oct. 5, 2019. North Korea had asked President Donald Trump to remove all sanctions against it, but U.S. officials said the move could subsidize nuclear activity.

“Kim seems to be following a family tradition of ramping up provocations to improve his [weapons of mass destruction] systems and raise the ante for an eventual return to diplomacy—either in a Trump second term or a Joe Biden first term,” Cha and Terry wrote.

Associated Press/Photo by Hani Mohammed (file) Associated Press/Photo by Hani Mohammed (file) A COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen

Leaving Yemen

Bader Hassan came to Yemen as a young child, a refugee from nearby Somalia. Now, after 30 years there, he said discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic is making it difficult for him to find work, even washing cars in the street.

“They ask, ‘What’s your nationality: Yemen, Somalia?’ I say Somali, and they say, ‘Sorry, goodbye,’” Hassan told Reuters.

After a Somali refugee became the first confirmed victim of the coronavirus in Yemen, the International Office of Migration warned that residents could make scapegoats of refugees and migrants, who have faced increasing harassment, denial of health services, and forced relocations and restrictions.

Roughly 280,000 refugees live in Yemen, which is wracked by a lengthy civil war, and about 100,000 more migrants enter each year. Some, like Hassan, now want to leave. —Julia A. Seymour

Uganda reopens refugee corridor

Uganda lifted coronavirus-related border closures this week for about 10,000 refugees from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the country would provide asylum to the men, women, and children who have fled since late May but were trapped at the border for nearly a month.

Armed militia attacks in Congo’s eastern province have left at least 444 civilians dead since March and displaced more than 200,000 others since January. Uganda shut down its refugee reception centers at border crossings in March to curb the spread of COVID-19. The arriving refugees will undergo testing and placed in quarantine, officials told The Guardian. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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