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North Korea Sends Poop-Filled Balloons into South Korea

May 30, 2024
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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North Korean balloons dropped feces and other garbage on busy streets, in front of residences, and in other public areas across South Korea on Wednesday, in Pyongyang’s latest escalation of tensions with its southern neighbor.

South Korea’s military said it detected about 260 balloons containing animal waste and garbage, accusing North Korea of an “inhumane and low-level” act.

Local media reported the balloons were spotted as far south as Jeolla Province, near the southern tip of South Korea’s mainland, suggesting the balloons had been spread nationwide.

Pictures released by South Korea’s military showed various garbage items, some mixed with an unspecified brown substance, strewn across streets and on what appeared to be front porch areas, including in Seoul, the capital.

In a statement, South Korea’s military said the actions violate international law and seriously threaten public safety.

Overnight Wednesday, text message alerts warned some South Korean residents in border provinces to refrain from outdoor activities because of unknown objects presumedly from North Korea.

This photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry shows trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, May 29, 2024.
This photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry shows trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, May 29, 2024.

North Korea earlier this week vowed “tit for tat action” after a prominent human rights activist launched balloons carrying anti-North Korea pamphlets and USB flash drives filled with South Korean pop culture content into the North.

In a statement laced with sarcasm and published late Wednesday, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described the waste-filled balloons as a “genuine ‘gift of sincerity’” and an act of “freedom of expression” on the part of the North Korean people.

The statement appeared to mock comments by South Korean officials, who have said they cannot be blamed for their inability to stop individual South Korean activists from launching leaflets into the North.

In the future, North Korea will respond to such leaflet launches by sending “dozens of times” more balloons into the South, said Kim’s statement, which was posted to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Balloon wars

North Korea’s totalitarian government has for years complained about South Korean activists who float anti-Pyongyang materials and other items into the North. The leaflets often criticize North Korea’s human rights record or mock its leader Kim Jong Un and are sometimes packaged with items of value, such as dollar bills or USB flash drives.

In this photo provided by Jeonbuk Fire Headquarters, balloons with trash presumably sent by North Korea, hang on electric wires as South Korean army soldiers stand guard in Muju, South Korea, May 29, 2024.
In this photo provided by Jeonbuk Fire Headquarters, balloons with trash presumably sent by North Korea, hang on electric wires as South Korean army soldiers stand guard in Muju, South Korea, May 29, 2024.

North Korea has directed particular ire at Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and outspoken human rights activist, who earlier this month sent about 20 large balloons into the North. It was Park’s first launch since South Korea’s Constitutional Court in September struck down a law banning such launches.

The law was passed during the administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who tried to improve relations with North Korea. His successor, conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, has taken a firmer stance against the North.

Though North Korea despises the leaflet launches, for decades it returned the favor, sending its own propaganda into the South.

The North’s pamphlets were part of a decades-long effort to win over South Koreans and create distrust towards their government, said Jacco Zwetsloot, the Seoul-based host of the NK News Podcast on North Korea-related issues.

This handout photo taken by the South Korean Defense Ministry between the night of May 28 and 29, 2024, and released on May 29 shows unidentified objects in the yard of a house in Seoul.
This handout photo taken by the South Korean Defense Ministry between the night of May 28 and 29, 2024, and released on May 29 shows unidentified objects in the yard of a house in Seoul.

But the latest launches of feces-filled balloons, he said, appear to reflect a change in North Korea’s approach toward the South.

“Once you send poop — or poopy toilet paper or trash — that’s liable to get the people off side rather than on side,” Zwetsloot said. “It could be part of the strategy of finding South Koreans hopelessly tainted and unworthy of being part of future unification plans with the North Korean populace.”

Earlier this year, Pyongyang formally disavowed its long-held goal of Korean reunification, declaring the South its permanent adversary.

Wider tensions

The moves are consistent with North Korea’s increasingly hostile rhetoric against the South, which has led some analysts to conclude that Kim may be preparing a more serious provocation, including possibly some type of cross-border confrontation.

However, it remains unclear whether Kim will escalate from his current pattern of periodically conducting so-called gray zone warfare tactics, which fall short of acts of war.

This photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, shows balloons with trash presumably sent by North Korea, in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea, May 29, 2024.
This photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, shows balloons with trash presumably sent by North Korea, in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea, May 29, 2024.

In one particularly provocative move, North Korea in late 2022 sent five small reconnaissance drones across the border, with one making it all the way to the northern edge of the capital, Seoul.

North Korea may see value in raising tensions ahead of the U.S. election in November, in part so that Pyongyang will remain a U.S. foreign policy priority, said Jean Lee, a Korea specialist at the Hawaii-based East-West Center.

“All of this, I think, is a step-by-step and very carefully thought-out pattern or playlist of provocations to create anxiety, to make sure North Korea is relevant,” Lee added.

Tuesday, North Korea acknowledged failure in its latest attempt to launch a military spy satellite into orbit, after the rocket carrying the device exploded shortly after liftoff.

North Korea successfully launched its first spy satellite last year and has vowed to launch several more as part of its efforts to monitor U.S. forces in the region.

In a statement Sunday, North Korea’s vice minister of national defense accused U.S. and South Korean forces of “openly intensifying” their air espionage and naval patrol activities near the inter-Korean border.

The statement said North Korea’s “supreme military leadership” instructed its army “to take offensive action against the enemy’s provocative encroachment.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Kashmir Monitor staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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