June 25, 2024

SEOUL — North Korea floated about 260 balloons laden with trash and other waste over the border toward South Korea, Seoul’s military said Wednesday, as a direct reaction against anti-Pyongyang leaflets coming from the South.

The balloons began landing on Tuesday night. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff sent out notifications to residents warning them not to make contact with the balloons and report them to the police or military.

Some of the balloons reached as far as the southeastern part of the country, according to the JCS.

“These North Korean acts are clear violations of international law and seriously threaten the safety of our citizens,” the JCS said in a statement.

The JCS reported that the balloons were carrying trash, including plastic bottles and batteries, as well as what it called “filth.” South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that a balloon that landed on a restaurant building in Dongducheon was carrying a bag of manure.

The military went on to say that the damage caused by the balloons was the sole responsibility of North Korea, and that it warned the North “to stop these inhumane, despicable actions.”

The JCS said it was cooperating with government ministries and the police to collect and clean up the waste.

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On Sunday, North Korea said it would take “tit-for-tat action” by scattering “mounds of wastepaper and filth” over the border.

“[South Korea] will directly experience how much effort is required to remove them,” North Korea said. “When our national sovereignty, security and interests are violated, we will take action immediately.”

South Korean activists, including defectors from the North, have sent balloons into the North for many years. In 2022, an activist group said it had launched a million propaganda leaflets via balloons, despite a law criminalizing such acts.

South Korea passed the law in 2020, making it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to send promotional pamphlets and items of value to the North without the government’s permission. But in 2023, the Constitutional Court struck down the statute.

The JCS also mentioned that, in 2016, balloons sent by the North caused damage to a vehicle and the roof of a house.

The North has long been irked by the balloons, which stoke tensions between the two sides that never officially signed a peace treaty to end the Korean War in 1953.

Jintak Han contributed to this report.

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