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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Seoul responds to Pyongyang’s trash balloons with loudspeakers at border, propaganda broadcasts

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South Korea announced Sunday that it would install loudspeakers near the inter-Korean border and resume propaganda broadcasts for the first time in six years in response to North Korea’s sending of more trash-loaded balloons over the weekend.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed that around 330 trash-loaded balloons sent from the North since Saturday were detected as of 10 a.m. Sunday.

This marks the third balloon launch across the border in the past two weeks. The JCS said that about 80 of these balloons had fallen in South Korean territory, while the rest are believed to have mostly landed in the sea or in North Korea. The balloons carried trash, such as paper waste and vinyl, but no toxic substances.

A military facility near the inter-Korean border in Paju, Gyeonggi, is seen on Sunday in the area where loudspeakers used for propaganda broadcasts against North Korea were located. On the same day, South Korea announced the resumption of propaganda broadcasts via loudspeakers for the first time in six years, following the North’s sending of more trash-loaded balloons across the border since Saturday. [YONHAP]

The National Security Council (NSC) convened an emergency meeting on Sunday morning and announced that propaganda broadcasts via loudspeakers would resume the same day.

“The responses we take may be difficult for the North Korean regime to endure, but will deliver news of light and hope to the North’s military and residents,” the NSC said in a press release. “We make it clear that the intensifying tension between the two Koreas is entirely the responsibility of the North.”

Loudspeakers installed along the inter-Korean border broadcast K-pop songs and anti-North speeches denouncing leader Kim Jong-un and praising democracy. The speakers were dismantled in 2018 during the liberal Moon Jae-in administration, in keeping with the inter-Korean Panmunjom Declaration of April 2018. It called for the two Koreas “to stop all the hostile acts, including the loudspeaker broadcasting and scattering of leaflets in the areas along the military demarcation line.”

The NSC meeting on Sunday came a week after it announced that the South would take measures that the North would find “unbearable” in response to its provocations. Pyongyang announced a halt to balloon launches following the South’s warning but said the regime would send garbage “a hundred times” the number of leaflets that make their way to the North.

Over the past weeks, South Korean officials confirmed that North Korea sent around 1,000 trash-loaded balloons between May 28 and 29 and over the last weekend in retaliation for what Pyongyang claims were activists flying anti-North Korea leaflets across the border.

The latest balloon launch comes after South Korean civic groups sent balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the inter-Korean border between Thursday and Friday.

On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol approved a motion to fully suspend a 2018 inter-Korean military pact, which had restricted military activities near the border.

The accord prohibited both Koreas from conducting live artillery drills or outdoor exercises involving units larger than a single regiment within a buffer zone extending 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from either side of the military demarcation line (MDL) dividing the peninsula. It also banned warships or coastal guns from firing live artillery shells along the inter-Korean boundaries in the Yellow Sea and East Sea, and prohibited fixed-wing aircraft from conducting tactical drills involving air-to-surface missiles within the buffer zone.

Loudspeaker broadcasts started in 1963 during the Park Chung Hee government and were removed in 2004 during the liberal administration of then-President Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul reinstalled the loudspeakers and resumed anti-Pyongyang broadcasts in response to serious provocations by the North, including the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010, a land mine incident in 2015 and its fourth nuclear test in 2016.

As of 8 a.m. Sunday, there were a total of 29 reports of trash balloons in Seoul spotted across the capital. The Seoul Metropolitan Government issued public safety alerts to residents at 11:09 p.m. on Saturday, warning them about the launch of more trash-loaded balloons and advising them to avoid contact.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry has instructed the military to maintain normal shifts on Sunday, viewing the North’s additional balloon launches as a serious matter.

BY CHO JUNG-WOO [cho.jungwoo1@joongang.co.kr]