North Korea sends trash-carrying balloons again: Seoul military

AFP , Saturday 8 Jun 2024

North Korea again sent trash-carrying balloons towards the South on Saturday, Seoul's military said, after anti-Pyongyang activists in the South said they have despatched balloons with leaflets against leader Kim Jong Un across the border.

Trash bombs
South Korean soldiers wearing protective gears check the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea. AP


"North Korea is again floating (suspected) balloons carrying trash towards the South," the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, advising the public to refrain from touching the balloons if spotted and to report them to authorities.

The announcement came hours after Seoul's military said it was on alert for possibly more trash-carrying balloons arriving from North Korea, a potential response to the propaganda balloons sent this week by activists in the South.

The Seoul city government, as well as the Gyeonggi Province, also sent a similar text alert to residents on Saturday, warning about the balloons.

North Korea sent hundreds of balloons in two waves last week with bags of trash into the South, describing them as a response to anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons sent the other way by South Korean activists.

Pyongyang announced a halt to the balloons last Sunday but days later, a South Korean group called "Fighters for Free North Korea" said it on Thursday had sent 10 balloons with USB thumb drives containing K-pop music and 200,000 leaflets against leader Kim Jong Un.

Another group, comprising North Korean defectors, also said it had sent 10 balloons on Friday with 100 radios, 200,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets, and USB thumb drives containing a speech by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

North Korea had said it would respond with "wastepaper and rubbish" a hundred times the amount if more South Korean leaflets were sent.

Last year, South Korea's Constitutional Court struck down a 2020 law that criminalised the sending of anti-Pyongyang propaganda, calling it an undue limitation on free speech.

Experts say there are now no legal grounds for the government to stop activists from sending balloons into North Korea.

South Korea's unification ministry said on Saturday that the issue is "being approached in consideration" of the 2023 court decision.

Kim Jong Un's powerful sister Kim Yo Jong mocked South Korea for complaining about the balloons last week, saying North Koreans were simply exercising their freedom of expression.

'Crash Landing on You'

The North Korean balloons last week landed in a number of locations in the South, and were found to be carrying garbage such as cigarette butts, cardboard scrap and waste batteries.

In response to the balloons, South Korea on Tuesday completely suspended a 2018 military deal with the North, which was meant to reduce tensions between the neighbours.

Authorities in Seoul have condemned the North Korean balloons as a "low-class" act and threatened countermeasures that it said Pyongyang would find "unendurable".

Activists in South Korea have long sent balloons northwards, filled with anti-Pyongyang propaganda, cash, rice, and Korean TV series on USB thumb drives.

These have always infuriated North Korea, whose government is extremely sensitive about its people gaining access to South Korean pop culture.

Kuensaem, another South Korean activist group, told AFP that it threw 500 plastic bottles into the sea on Friday near the border with North Korea.

The bottles were filled with rice, cash and a USB drive with a South Korean TV series "Crash Landing on You" -- which features a romance between a wealthy South Korean heiress and a North Korean army officer.

The group has been sending such materials to the North twice a month since 2015.

"We were just doing what we've been doing for a long time to help North Koreans who are starving," the group's leader Park Jung-oh told AFP Saturday.

Tensions over the duelling propaganda have boiled over in dramatic fashion in the past.

In 2020, blaming the anti-North leaflets, Pyongyang unilaterally cut off all official military and political communication links with Seoul and blew up a disused inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border.

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