Thu | Jun 13, 2024

Anti-North Korea loudspeaker broadcasts restart in retaliation for trash balloons

Published:Monday | June 10, 2024 | 12:07 AM
An officer wearing protective gear collects the trash from a balloon, presumably sent by North Korea, in Siheung.
An officer wearing protective gear collects the trash from a balloon, presumably sent by North Korea, in Siheung.


South Korea on Sunday resumed anti-North Korean propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts in border areas, in retaliation for the North sending over 1,000 balloons filled with trash and manure over the last couple of weeks.

The move is certain to anger Pyongyang and could trigger retaliatory military steps as tensions between the war-divided rivals rise while negotiations over the North’s nuclear ambitions remain stalemated.

Hours after the South resumed loudspeaker broadcasts, South Korea’s military said it detected North Korea launching what appeared to be more trash-carrying balloons towards, the South starting Sunday night. The military did not immediately confirm the number of suspected balloons or whether any of them had already landed in the South.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that the military conducted a loudspeaker broadcast on Sunday afternoon. It didn’t specify the border area where it took place or what was played over the speakers.

“Whether our military conducts an additional loudspeaker broadcast is entirely dependent on North Korea’s behaviour,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Hours earlier, South Korean National Security Director Chang Ho-jin presided over an emergency meeting where officials decided to install and begin the broadcasts from loudspeakers. The South had withdrawn such equipment from border areas in 2018, during a brief period of engagement with the North under Seoul’s previous liberal government.

Chang and other South Korean security officials berated Pyongyang for attempting to cause “anxiety and disruption” in South Korea with the balloons and stressed that North Korea would be “solely responsible” for any future escalation of tensions.

The North said its balloon campaign came after South Korean activists sent over balloons filled with anti-North Korean leaflets, as well as USB sticks filled with popular South Korean songs and dramas. Pyongyang is extremely sensitive to such material and fears it could demoralise frontline troops and residents and eventually weaken leader Kim Jong Un’s grip on power, analysts say.

South Korea has in the past used loudspeakers to blare anti-Pyongyang broadcasts, K-pop songs and international news across the rivals’ heavily armed border.

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

Last week, as tensions spiked over the trash-carrying balloons, South Korea also suspended a 2018 agreement to reduce hostile acts along the border, allowing it to resume propaganda campaigns and possibly restart live-fire military exercises in border areas.

South Korean Defence Minister Shin Won-sik, in a meeting with top military commanders, called for thorough preparation against the possibility that the North responds to the loudspeaker broadcasts with direct military action, the South Korean defence ministry said in a statement.

North Korea continued to fly hundreds of balloons into South Korea over the weekend, a third such campaign since late May, the South’s military said.

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

The South’s military said the balloons that did land dropped trash, including plastic and paper waste, but no hazardous substances were discovered.