North Korea escalates dirty balloon war with South as Kim Jong-un's sister makes threat

Pyongyang, North Korea - North Korea sent hundreds more trash-carrying balloons over the border, Seoul's military said Monday, after Kim Jong-un's powerful sister warned of further responses if the South keeps up its "psychological warfare".

North Korea dispatched hundreds more trash-carrying balloons over the border with South Korea, according to Seoul.
North Korea dispatched hundreds more trash-carrying balloons over the border with South Korea, according to Seoul.  © Collage: via REUTERS

In recent weeks, North Korea has sent hundreds of balloons into the South, carrying trash like cigarette butts and toilet paper, in what it calls retaliation for balloons laden with anti-Pyongyang propaganda floated northwards by activists in the South, which Seoul legally cannot stop.

The South Korean government this month fully suspended a 2018 tension-reducing military deal and restarted loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border in response to Pyongyang's balloons, infuriating the North, which warned Seoul was creating "a new crisis."

Kim's sister and key government spokesperson Kim Yo Jong said in a statement released early Monday that South Korea would "suffer a bitter embarrassment of picking up waste paper without rest and it will be its daily work".

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In the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, she slammed the activists' leaflets as "psychological warfare" and warned that unless Seoul stopped them and called off the loudspeaker broadcasts, the North would hit back.

"If the ROK simultaneously carries out the leaflet scattering and loudspeaker broadcasting provocation over the border, it will undoubtedly witness the new counteraction of the DPRK," she said, referring to both countries by their official names.

Latest balloon barrage contained "no toxic material"

Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo Jong warned South Koreans would "picking up waste paper without rest" as the North continues to send in balloon salvos.
Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo Jong warned South Koreans would "picking up waste paper without rest" as the North continues to send in balloon salvos.  © JORGE SILVA / POOL / AFP

Seoul's military said the North had sent around 310 trash-carrying balloons overnight, with no more detected in the air by early Monday, the Yonhap news agency reported.

"The latest batch of waste-loaded balloons sent late Sunday contained scrap paper and plastic, with no toxic material detected so far," Yonhap said, citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The tit-for-tat balloon blitz started in mid-May when activists in the South – including North Korean defectors – sent dozens of missives carrying anti-Kim propaganda and flash drives of K-pop music northwards.

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In response, Pyongyang has sent more than a thousand balloons carrying bags of garbage into the South, which Seoul has branded "low class," while also claiming it violates the armistice agreement that ended hostilities in the 1950 to 1953 Korean War.

Seoul retaliated by tearing up the 2018 military deal and resuming loudspeakers broadcasts along the border – which have not been used since 2016, when they were turned on in retaliation for North Korea's fourth nuclear test, Yonhap said.

During a period of improved inter-Korean relations in 2018, the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to "completely cease all hostile acts", including stopping the leaflets and broadcasts.

The South Korean parliament passed a law in 2020 criminalizing sending leaflets to the North, but activists did not stop, and the law was struck down by the Constitutional Court last year as an undue limitation on free speech.

Cover photo: Collage: via REUTERS

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