Advertisement

North Korea sending trash balloons again as tension grows with South Korea

Click to play video: 'North Korea resumes sending trash-filled balloons to South Korea'
North Korea resumes sending trash-filled balloons to South Korea
North Korea has resumed its provocative act of sending balloons filled with trash towards South Korea in retaliation against South Korea's sending of anti-North Korea leaflets. In response, South Korea has restarted broadcasting propaganda through loudspeakers directed at North Korea from the border.

Less than a week after North Korea said it would stop sending balloons carrying trash to South Korea, the authoritarian state has resumed the unorthodox campaign.

In response to the now weeks-long balloon conflict, South Korea suspended a 2018 military pact signed with the North and has resumed loudspeaker broadcasts, blaring hit singles by K-pop band BTS and foreign news across the border.

Since late May, North Korea has sent over 1,000 balloons that have rained trash and manure over South Korea. North Korea’s vice-defence minister said the provocation was a “tit-for-tat” move in retaliation for South Korean activists sending balloons across the border with leaflets criticizing North Korea’s human rights abuses.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to these leaflets because most of its 26 million people have no official access to foreign TV and radio.

Story continues below advertisement

After sending over 700 balloons, North Korean vice-defence minister Kim Kang Il announced on June 2 that the balloon activities would cease and that North Korea had proven its point to the South. But he warned the campaign would resume if South Korean activists continued to send leaflets.

“We made (South Korea) get enough experience of how much unpleasant [sic] they feel and how much effort is needed to remove the scattered wastepaper,” Kim said.
Trash from a balloon sent by North Korea is seen behind police tape in Incheon, South Korea, Sunday, June 2, 2024. South Korea has recently retaliated for North Korea’s trash-carrying balloon launches with propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts at border areas. Im Sun-suk/Yonhap via AP, File

Undeterred by North Korea’s warnings, a South Korean activist group led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak said it launched 10 balloons across the border carrying 200,00 anti-North Korean leaflets, U.S. dollar bills and USB sticks with K-pop songs and K-drama TV shows on Thursday.

South Korean media reported another activist group also flew balloons with 200,000 propaganda leaflets toward North Korea on Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

As promised, North Korea resumed sending balloons carrying trash to South Korea in retaliation for the leaflets.

Click to play video: 'North Korea says it will stop sending trash balloons to South Korea'
North Korea says it will stop sending trash balloons to South Korea

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the North launching around 330 balloons toward the South since Saturday night and about 80 were found in South Korean territory as of Sunday morning. The military said winds were blowing eastward on Saturday night, which possibly caused many balloons to float away from South Korean territory.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

The South’s military said the balloons that did land dropped trash, including plastic and paper waste, but no hazardous substances were discovered. Previous waves of balloons also dropped various kinds of trash, including animal feces and manure, but no human waste.

Trash- and feces-filled balloons from North Korea floated over South Korea on May 29, 2024. South Korea Presidential Office via AP

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said on Sunday that the trash balloons will continue as long as South Korea continues to wage “psychological warfare” against the North.

Story continues below advertisement

“This is a prelude to a very dangerous situation,” Kim Yo-jong said. “(South Korea) will suffer a bitter embarrassment of picking up waste paper without rest and it will be its daily work.”

The South Korean military has mobilized chemical rapid response and explosive clearance units to retrieve the North Korean balloons and materials, and alerted the public to beware of falling objects and report suspicious balloons to police or military authorities.

After the initial wave of balloons was sent, South Korea responded by suspending a 2018 military agreement signed with the North. The pact was the result of months of historic summit meetings between the two Koreas, led by South Korea’s former president Moon Jae-in, which brought an end to military training and inflammatory loudspeaker broadcasts near the border.

Last year, North Korea announced it was no longer bound by the agreement and began redeploying troops and weapons at border posts. Before suspending the pact last week, South Korea’s National Security Council argued that the country was opening itself up to “considerable problems in our military’s readiness posture” by continuing to abide by the agreement.

Click to play video: 'North Korea sending balloons filled with feces, trash over South Korean border: officials'
North Korea sending balloons filled with feces, trash over South Korean border: officials

With the 2018 pact dead, the conflict on the Korean border is starting to look eerily similar to the tense relations that characterized the mid-2010s.

Story continues below advertisement

On Sunday, South Korea redeployed its gigantic loudspeakers along the border for the first time in six years and resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts. The broadcasts reportedly included K-pop sensation BTS’ mega-hits like Butter and Dynamite, weather forecasts and news on Samsung, the biggest South Korean company, as well as outside criticism of the North’s missile program and its crackdown on foreign video.

The broadcasts reportedly lasted two hours on Sunday, and the country didn’t turn on its speakers again on Monday and Tuesday.

According to South Korean officials, North Korea has also reinstalled its own propaganda loudspeakers near the border, but as of Tuesday morning, it hasn’t switched them on. North Korean broadcasts in the past revolved mainly around praising its system and harsh censuring of South Korea.

A facility of North Korean loudspeakers is seen in Incheon, South Korea, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Im Sun-suk/Yonhap via AP

Some front-line North Korean soldiers testified after their defections to South Korea that they had enjoyed South Korean broadcasts that contained pop songs and accurate weather forecasts that warned of potential rain and advised them to gather up laundry hung on outdoor clotheslines.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2015, when South Korea restarted loudspeaker broadcasts for the first time in 11 years, North Korea fired artillery rounds across the border, prompting the South to return fire, according to South Korean officials. No casualties were reported.

There are concerns that the old-fashioned psychological warfare is increasing the risks of direct military clashes between the Koreas.

“At this point, both Koreas are trying to pressure and deter each other with politically symbolic actions,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said. “The problem is that neither side wants to be seen as backing down, and tensions at the border could escalate to unintended conflict.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Sponsored content

AdChoices