June 25, 2024

SEOUL, South Korea — Waste and propaganda are raining down across the Korean peninsula.

It’s not the cross-border barrage South Koreans have been fearing: The country’s military said Wednesday that its nuclear-armed neighbor launched more than 200 balloons across the border overnight carrying trash, bottles, old batteries, leaflets, fertilizer and other waste.

The balloons were found primarily in the border provinces of Gyeonggi and Gangwon, but they were also seen hundreds of miles south in South Gyeongsang.

A balloon believed to have been sent by North Korea, carrying various objects including what appeared to be trash and excrement, is seen over a rice field at Cheorwon
A balloon believed to have been sent by North Korea, carrying various objects, including what appeared to be trash and excrement, over a rice field in Cheorwon, South Korea, on Wednesday. Yonhap News Agency via Reuters

South Korea sent out a government emergency disaster alert urging people to refrain from touching the objects and to report any more incidents to the military.

Response teams were dispatched to identify what exactly was in the balloons, which confirmed fertilizers. South Korea’s defense ministry told NBC News that no human waste was found but said North Korea did send human waste via balloon in 2016.

North Korea often uses human feces as fertilizer.

Photographs released by the South Korean military showed inflated balloons anchored with plastic bags full with garbage.

Other images appeared to show trash scattered around collapsed balloons, with the word “excrement” written on a bag in one photograph.

According to the Yonhap news agency, it is the largest number of balloons from North Korea since similar incidents from 2016 to 2018.

South Korea’s defense ministry told NBC News that North Korea had also disrupted GPS frequencies in the de facto sea border between the two countries.

“These acts by North Korea violate international law and threaten our people’s safety,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, urging North Korea to cease its “inhumane and vulgar behaviors” immediately.

North Korea dropped suspected anti-South Korean "propaganda" into border areas overnight, Seoul's military told AFP on May 29, with one province issuing an alert asking residents to stay indoors.
South Korea’s defense ministry released images of the balloons.South Korean Defence Ministry / AFP – Getty Images

The barrage follows a warning from North Korea’s vice defense minister about a “tit-for-tat action” after South Korean activists sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border recently.

Early this month, North Korean defector-turned-human rights activist Park Sang-hak sent 20 balloons carrying 300,000 leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The balloons were also stuffed with USB drives containing South Korean media such as K-pop and K-drama, as well as U.S. dollar bills.

“I wanted to let the North Korean people know that Kim Jong Un is the enemy of Korean people,” Park said in a phone interview Wednesday.

He added that he wanted to show people in the North what it was like to live in the South after he defected.

“They must know that Kim Jong Un is telling lies when he labeled South Koreans as America’s slaves, when the reality is that North Koreans are the slaves to Kim Jong Un,” he said.

The standoff between the two neighbors has been escalating in recent months, with Kim’s actions raising concerns among some analysts that he may even be preparing to take military action.

Stella Kim reported from Seoul and Michael Fiorentino from London.

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