North Korea Sends Balloons with Trash and Feces into South Korea Amid Rising Tensions

North Korea Sends Balloons with Trash and Feces into South Korea Amid Rising Tensions

South Korean authorities issued a warning to residents near the North Korean border about an “air raid.” However, instead of rockets, the incursion involved over 150 balloons carrying trash and possibly feces.

An emergency disaster text alert was sent across cities on Tuesday night, as reported by South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh. The alert advised residents to “refrain from outdoor activities and report [objects] to military bases when identified,” and included the English message: “Air raid preliminary warning.” This event followed North Korea’s recent threat of retaliation against anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent by South Korean activists.

North Korea Sends Balloons with Trash and Feces into South Korea Amid Rising Tensions

According to South Korea’s news agency Yonhap, the country’s military detected balloons flying and falling from Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, reaching as far as South Gyeongsang, over 180 miles from the demilitarized zone border. The balloons carried trash such as plastic bottles, batteries, shoe parts, and feces, according to a South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff official. The military, in collaboration with the police, is collecting the materials for analysis and has advised residents to avoid contact with the droppings and report them to authorities.

North Korea’s vice minister of national defense stated on Sunday, “Tit-for-tat action will be also taken against frequent scattering of leaflets and other rubbish by [South Korea] near border areas. Mounds of wastepaper and filth will soon be scattered over the border areas and the interior of [South Korea] and it will directly experience how much effort is required to remove them.”

South Korea’s military condemned the act on Wednesday, stating that the balloons “clearly violate international law and seriously threaten our people’s safety.” This is not the first instance of North Korea using balloons to send garbage; in 2016, it sent cigarette butts and used toilet paper in a similar manner.

North Korea Sends Balloons with Trash and Feces into South Korea Amid Rising Tensions

North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea have long used balloons to send propaganda payloads into North Korea, aiming to inspire residents to resist Kim Jong-un’s regime. Pyongyang has criticized this practice as “psychological warfare.” Earlier this month, defectors sent about 20 large balloons carrying 300,000 propaganda leaflets and 2,000 USB sticks with K-pop content, including songs from the popular group BTS, which Kim Jong-un has denounced as a “vicious cancer.”

As tensions rise between North and South Korea, experts note that this exchange of balloons is preferable to missiles. Peter Ward, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute, told Reuters, “These kinds of grey zone tactics are more difficult to counter and hold less risk of uncontrollable military escalation, even if they’re horrid for the civilians who are ultimately targeted.”

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Pooja Chauhan

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