North Korea warns of retaliatory actions over defectors in South

The sister of North Korea's leader has warned of retaliatory measures against South Korea that could involve the military, in the latest escalation of tensions over defectors from the North who have been sending back propaganda and food.

Kim Yo-jong, who serves unofficially as one of Kim Jong-un's top aides, issued the warning in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA on Saturday.

"By exercising my power authorised by the Supreme Leader, our Party and the state, I gave an instruction to the ... department in charge of the affairs with (the) enemy to decisively carry out the next action," Kim said.

Her statement, which did not say what the next action could be, came days after South Korea took legal action against defectors who have been sending material such as rice and anti-North leaflets, usually by balloon over the heavily fortified border or in bottles by sea.

North Korea said it has been angered by the defectors and in the past week severed inter-Korean hotlines and threatened to close a liaison office between the two governments.

As part of the effort to improve ties with the North, South Korean President Moon Jae-in's administration has sought to discourage the leaflet and rice campaigns, and defectors have complained of pressure to avoid criticism of North Korea.

On Sunday, South Korea's National Security Council meeting was held with security and diplomatic chiefs in attendance, "to examine the current situation of the (Korean) peninsula," the presidential Blue House said, without elaborating.

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TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump (2nd R) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (2nd L) sign documents as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and the North Korean leader's sister Kim Yo Jong (L) look on at a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, attends wreath laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, March 2, 2019. (Photo by JORGE SILVA / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP via Getty Images)
Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, speaks with North Korean officials during a bilateral meeting with Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of Vietnam's National Assembly, at the National Assembly in Hanoi on March 1, 2019. (Photo by SeongJoon Cho / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read SEONGJOON CHO/AFP via Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - MARCH 01: Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and North Korean officials during a welcoming ceremony at the President Palace on March 1, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began his two-day official visit to Vietnam on Friday after his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi which ended without an agreement made. (Photo by Tuan Mark/Getty Images)
PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 12: In this handout photo provided by the Ministry of Unification, Kim Yo-Jong (R), sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, shakes hands with Chung Eui-yong (L), South Korea's top national security advisor, during a meeting to deliver a condolence message and flowers on her brother's behalf for former first lady Lee He-ho's funeral at border village of Panmunjom between South and North Korea on June 12, 2019 in Panmunjom, South Korea. The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is due to deliver a condolence message and some flowers to South Korea at the border village of Panmunjom today after the death of former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho. Chung Eui-yong, head of the presidential National Security Office, Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho and Rep. Park Jie-won of the minor opposition Party of Democracy and Peace will accept the message and flowers. (Photo by South Korean Ministry of Unification via Getty Images)
PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 12: In this handout photo provided by the Ministry of Unification, Kim Yo-Jong (R), sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, talks with Chung Eui-yong (L), South Korea's top national security advisor, during a meeting to deliver a condolence message and flowers on her brother's behalf for former first lady Lee He-ho's funeral at border village of Panmunjom between South and North Korea on June 12, 2019 in Panmunjom, South Korea. The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is due to deliver a condolence message and some flowers to South Korea at the border village of Panmunjom today after the death of former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho. Chung Eui-yong, head of the presidential National Security Office, Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho and Rep. Park Jie-won of the minor opposition Party of Democracy and Peace will accept the message and flowers. (Photo by South Korean Ministry of Unification via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un's Sister Kim Yo Jong holds a flower bouquet during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on March 1, 2019. (Photo by LUONG THAI LINH / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUONG THAI LINH/AFP via Getty Images)
Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is arrives at the Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands on night before summit on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - MAY 31, 2018: North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong seen at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin TASS via Getty Images)
PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 27: North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (L), sister Kim Yo Jong (R) attend the Inter-Korean Summit at the Peace House on April 27, 2018 in Panmunjom, South Korea. Kim and Moon meet at the border today for the third-ever inter-Korean summit talks after the 1945 division of the peninsula, and first since 2007 between then President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea and Leader Kim Jong-il of North Korea. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
PANMUNJOM, NORTH KOREA - MAY 26: In this handout image provided by South Korean Presidential Blue House, South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) shakes hands with Kim Yo-Jong (C) sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un upon his arrival for the meeting on May 26, 2018 in Panmunjom, North Korea. North and South Korean leaders held the surprise second summit after U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled the meeting with Kim Jong-un scheduled for June 12. Trump has since indicated that the meeting could take place a day after. (Photo by South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 11: In this handout image provided by the South Korean Presidential Blue House, North Korea's nominal head of state Kim Yong-Nam (L) weeps while watching a performance of North Korea's Samjiyon Orchestra with Kim Yo-Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's sister and South Koran President Moon Jae-In (3rd R) at National Theater on February 11, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 10: President of South Korea Moon Jae-in, his wife Kim Jung-sook, IOC President Thomas Bach, President of North Korea Kim Yong-nam, Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un attend the women's ice hockey preliminary match between Korea and Switzerland during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Kwandong Hockey Centre on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 10: Swiss President Alain Berset shakes hands with Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, during the Women's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round - Group B game between Switzerland and Korea on day one of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Kwandong Hockey Centre on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 10: President of South Korea Moon Jae-in, IOC President Thomas Bach, President of North Korea Kim Yong-nam, Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un came down on the ice to greet the players of united Korea despite the defeat following the women's ice hockey preliminary match between Korea and Switzerland during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Kwandong Hockey Centre on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong (R) and North Korea's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam attend the women's preliminary round ice hockey match between Switzerland and the Unified Korean team during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung on February 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US Vice President Mike Pence (R), North Korea's Kim Jong Uns sister Kim Yo Jong (C) and wife of US Vice President Karen Pence attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Pyeongchang Stadium on February 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 09: Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrives at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Patrick Semansky - Pool /Getty Images)
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South Korea's Unification Ministry and Defence Ministry each released statements asking the North to honour inter-Korean agreements reached in the past.

"The South and the North should try to honour all inter-Korean agreements reached," the Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The Defence Ministry said the military is ready to respond to "all situations," and added it is closely monitoring moves by the North Korean military.

The escalation of tension comes a day ahead of the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, which pledged increased dialogue and cooperation between the two states.

In 2018, the leaders of the two countries signed a declaration agreeing to work for the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" and cease "hostile acts."

Analysts say North Korea appears to be using the leaflet issue to increase pressure on South Korea amid stalled denuclearisation talks.

"The leaflets are an excuse or justification to raise the ante, manufacture a crisis, and bully Seoul to get what it wants," said Duyeon Kim, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based independent non-profit organisation.

Pyongyang feels betrayed and misled by Seoul's prediction that the United States would lift some sanctions in exchange for North Korea closing its nuclear reactor site, and is upset that leaflets and US-South Korea military drills continue, Kim said.

"They're upset that Seoul has done nothing to change the environment and is again telling Seoul to stay out of its nuclear talks with Washington," she added.

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