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ConflictsSouth Korea

South Korea to restart loudspeakers in response to balloons

June 9, 2024

The South Korean government has said it will resume loudspeaker propaganda messages across its border with North Korea following a fresh wave of trash balloons sent by Pyongyang.

South Korean soldiers dismantle loudspeakers that were set up for propaganda broadcasts near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju on May 1, 2018.
South Korea says it will resume propaganda broadcasts via loudspeaker batteries dismantled back in 2018, as shown here.Image: KIM HONG-JI/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea has announced it will resume loudspeaker broadcasts of anti-North Korean propaganda in border regions in response to a continuing campaign of trash balloons sent southwards by Pyongyang.

More than 1,000 balloons carrying garbage bags containing waste paper, cigarette butts, and even excrement have landed in northern provinces of South Korea in recent weeks.

The North Korean regime says the campaign is in retaliation for propaganda leaflets sent northwards by South Korean activists and North Korean defectors.

The North temporarily halted its campaign last week, saying its "thorough countermeasure" had "given the South Koreans a full experience of how disgusting and labor-intensive it is to collect scattered waste paper."

But after 300 more balloons arrived in a fresh blitz on Saturday, the Seoul government says it will resort to its loudspeaker tactic discontinued back in 2018.

Seoul: 'Messages of light and hope'

"We will install loudspeakers against North Korea today and carry out the broadcast," the president's office said in a statement, adding that "the responsibility for the escalation of tension between the two Koreas will be entirely [down] to the North."

It added: "Although the measures we are taking may be difficult for the North Korean regime to endure, they will deliver messages of light and hope to the North Korean military and citizens," it added.

The broadcasts — a tactic dating back to the 1950-1953 Korean War which has been frozen without a peace treaty ever since — are likely to anger North Korea and potentially prompt dictator Kim Jong Un to take retaliatory military steps, according to experts.

"There is a high possibility the resuming of speakers could lead to an armed conflict," Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Korean peninsula strategy at Sejong Institute, told the AFP news agency.

"It is likely that North Korea will resume firing in the West Sea or fire at the balloons if the South sends any again. [The North] has been jamming GPS signals for several days last week and it is likely for this kind of provocation to appear in a much stronger form in the West Sea as well."

Trash from a balloon sent by North Korea, is seen behind police tape in Incheon, South Korea
Trash from a balloon sent by North Korea, is seen behind police tape in Incheon, South KoreaImage: Im Sun-suk/Yonhap/AP/picture alliance

Escalating tensions

In 2020, the South Korean parliament passed a law making it illegal to send propaganda leaflets northwards. Last year, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the law constituted an illegal restriction on freedom of speech and activists have continued to send flyers, money, rice and even USB sticks with South Korean TV shows and K-Pop songs over the border.

Relations between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south are at their lowest ebb in years.

As the South draws ever closer to the United States, the North continues to ramp up weapons development and tests and has been providing arms to Russia for use in Ukraine.

mf/rc (AP, AFP)