July 24, 2024

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said North Korea was flying balloons likely carrying trash across the border for a second consecutive day on Tuesday, despite the South’s threat to retaliate with anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts in border areas.

The development comes as the latest round of Cold War-style campaigns between the rival Koreas is flaring after North Korea recently signed a major defense deal with Russia that experts say could embolden the North to direct more provocations at its southern neighbor.

A U.S. aircraft carrier temporarily docked at a South Korea port is to leave on Wednesday for a new trilateral military training involving the United States, South Korea and Japan. North Korea’s military on Monday called the carrier’s deployment “reckless” and “dangerous.”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the balloons were moving southeast on Tuesday night after crossing the border. It asked the South Korean public not to touch any North Korean balloons that fall to the ground and to report them to police or military authorities.

Seoul’s city government later sent text messages to residents, telling them the balloons had reached the city, about an hour’s drive from the border, and urging them to be beware of any falling objects.

The balloons are North Korea’s sixth launch since late May. North Korea says the balloons activities are a tit-for-tat response to South Korean activists flying political leaflets via balloons.

On Monday night, about 100 North Korean balloons eventually landed on South Korean soil, mostly in Seoul and nearby areas. The trash carried by those balloons was largely paper and no hazardous items were discovered, according to South Korea’s military.

Previous North Korean balloon launches included manure, cigarette butts and waste batteries, along with scraps of cloth and waste papers. No major damage was reported. In response, South Korea redeployed gigantic loudspeakers on June 9 along the border for the first time in six years and briefly resumed anti-North Korean propaganda broadcasts.

Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson Lee Sung Joon told reporters earlier Tuesday that the South Korean military was ready to turn on its border loudspeakers again. A written Joint Chiefs of Staff statement said officials would examine unspecified strategic operational circumstances and that broadcasts’ resumption would depend on how North Korea acts.

The South Korean military didn’t immediately say how it would respond to North Korea’s latest balloon campaign.

In a Tuesday speech marking a Korean War anniversary, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called North Korea’s balloon activities “a despicable and irrational provocation.” He said South Korea will maintain a firm military readiness to repel any provocations by North Korea.

Balloon launches and loudspeaker broadcasts were among psychological campaigns that the two Koreas specialized in during the Cold War. The rivals agreed to halt such activities in recent years, but have occasionally resumed them when animosities rekindled.

North Korea is highly sensitive to South Korean border broadcasts and civilian leafletting campaigns as it bans most of its 26 million people official access to foreign news.

Past South Korean border broadcasts included K-pop songs, weather forecasts and outside news. South Korean civilian leafleting campaigns have been led by North Korean defectors, who say they want to help the North Korean people learn the truth of their authoritarian government.

In a statement Friday, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, called those North Korea-born activists “human scum” and “disgusting defectors.”

South Korean officials maintain they do not restrict activists from flying leaflets to North Korea in line with a 2023 constitutional court ruling that struck down a law criminalizing such leafleting, calling it a violation of free speech.

Many experts say the North Korean balloon campaign is also likely designed to deepen a debate in South Korea over the civilian leafleting and trigger a broader internal divide.

Worries about North Korea intensified last week, when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on a deal requiring each country to provide aid if attacked and vowed to boost other cooperation. Observers say the accord represents the strongest connection between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.

The U.S. and its partners believe North Korea has been providing Russia with much-needed conventional arms for its war in Ukraine in return for military and economic assistance.

In his Korean War speech, Yoon described the Kim-Putin deal as “anachronistic.” South Korea, the U.S. and Japan issued a joint statement Monday strongly condemning expanding military cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

Later Tuesday, Yoon boarded the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier docked at a southeastern port and told American and South Korean troops there that the two countries’ alliance is the world’s greatest and can defeat any enemy. Yoon became the first sitting South Korean president to board a U.S. aircraft carrier since 1994.

Yoon said the U.S. carrier is to leave the South Korean port Wednesday for a new trilateral South Korea-U.S.-Japan drill. The multidomain “Freedom Edge” exercise is aimed at sharpening the countries’ combined response in various areas of operation, including air, sea and cyberspace.

The U.S. aircraft carrier’s arrival is meant to cope with North Korea’s nuclear threats and its advancing military partnerships with Russia, South Korean officials said. North Korea has previously called major U.S.-South Korean drills invasion rehearsals and reacted with missile tests.


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