North Korea sends another wave of trash balloons into South Korea

North Korea has yet again sent hundreds of trash-laden balloons toward its southern neighbor, reigniting a tit-for-tat exchange after South Korean activists sent floating packages in the other direction carrying K-pop and K-dramas on USB sticks.

About 330 balloons carrying bags of trash had been sent by North Korea since Saturday night, of which about 80 have landed in South Korea, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on Sunday.

Waste paper and plastic were found in the packages and there were no substances hazardous to safety, the JCS said.

Around 1,060 balloons from the North have made it into South Korean territory since May 28, according to a CNN tally.

South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss responses to the latest wave of balloons.

Last week, Pyongyang claimed to have sent a total of 3,500 balloons carrying 15 tonnes of trash to its neighbor, according to state media KCNA, citing North Korea’s Vice Defense Minister Kim Kang Il.

The South Korean military responded on Sunday afternoon local time by playing a loudspeaker broadcast into North Korea, according to the JCS.

South Korea’s military once championed the propaganda broadcasts as part of psychological warfare against the North, until it withdrew the equipment following a 2018 summit between the neighbors.

The broadcasts inform North Korean soldiers and residents of the “reality of North Korea,” the development of South Korea, and Korean culture, the JCS said, adding that it is “capable of immediately performing its mission within a few hours if necessary.”

The JCS said that North Korea is “fully responsible” for the current situation and urged the North to “immediately stop such mean acts like sending waste balloons.”

Whether the military plays another loudspeaker broadcast again is “fully up to North Korea’s action,” the JCS warned.

Senior North Korean official Kim Yo Jong, the sister of leader Kim Jong Un, said Seoul’s resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts were “a prelude to a very dangerous situation,” in a statement carried by KCNA. She also called Pyongyang’s recent balloon activities “legitimate.”

The countries have been cut off from each other since the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953. They are still technically at war, and the balloon feud has been going on for decades.

Groups such as Fighters for a Free North Korea have long sent balloons carrying items prohibited in the isolated totalitarian dictatorship – including food, medicine, radios, propaganda leaflets and pieces of South Korean news.

Trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea lies on scattered the ground in Seoul, South Korea on June 9, 2024. - South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff/AP
Trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea lies on scattered the ground in Seoul, South Korea on June 9, 2024. - South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff/AP

In May, North Korea responded by sending its own giant balloons south – containing trash, soil, pieces of paper and plastic, and what South Korean authorities described as “filth.”

Kim said the balloons were “strictly a responsive act” to South Korea’s years-long practice of sending balloons with anti-North Korea leaflets the other way.

The minister said last week that North Korea would “temporarily halt dropping trash over the border,” but on Thursday South Korean activists sent balloons to their northern neighbor carrying hundreds of thousands of leaflets condemning leader Kim Jong Un and 5,000 USB sticks containing K-pop and K-dramas.

South Korea’s JCS said Saturday night that North Korea was “boosting its presumed trash balloons,” and warned that the wind direction may lead to balloons moving south. It advised people to be careful of falling objects, not to touch the fallen balloons, and to report any they find to the nearest military base or to police.

This story has been updated with additional developments. CNN’s Gawon Bae contributed reporting.

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