Friday, June 14, 2024
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North Korea says it will stop sending trash balloons as South Korea vows strong retaliation

North Korea said it will stop sending trash-carrying balloons into South Korea, claiming Sunday that its campaign left the South Koreans with “enough experience of how much unpleasant they feel.”

The North’s announcement came hours after South Korea said it would soon punish North Korea with “unbearable” retaliatory steps over its balloon activities and other recent provocations.

Observers say South Korea will likely restart front-line loudspeaker broadcasts into North Korea that include criticism of its abysmal human rights situation, world news and K-pop songs. North Korea is extremely sensitive to such broadcasts because most of its 26 million people have no official access to foreign TV and radio programs.

It wasn’t immediately unclear if South Korea would move ahead with its punitive measures following North Korea’s suspension of balloon launches.

On Sunday night, Kim Kang Il, a North Korean vice defense minister, said that the North will temporarily suspend its balloon activities. He said they were a countermeasure against previous South Korean leafleting campaigns.

“We made the ROK (Republic of Korea) clans get enough experience of how much unpleasant they feel and how much effort is needed to remove the scattered wastepaper,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media.

He said that if South Korean activists float anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets via balloons again, North Korea will resume flying its own balloons to dump rubbish hundreds times the amount of the South Korean leaflets found in the North.

Earlier Sunday, South Korea’s military said that more than 700 balloons flown from North Korea were discovered in various parts of the country, in addition to about 260 balloons found a few days earlier. Tied to the balloons were manure, cigarette butts, scraps of cloth, waste paper and vinyl, but no dangerous substances, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kim, the North Korean official, said North Korea flew 3,500 balloons carrying 15 tons of wastepaper.

South Korea’s national security director Chang Ho-jin said earlier Sunday that the government decided to take “unbearable” measures against North Korea in reaction to its balloon launches, alleged jamming of GPS navigation signals in South Korea and simulation of nuclear strikes against the South in recent days.

Chang called the North’s balloon campaign and its alleged GPS signal jamming “absurd, irrational acts of provocation that a normal country can’t imagine.” He accused North Korea of aiming to cause “public anxieties and chaos” in South Korea.

North Korea often responds with fury to South Korean civilian leafleting because they contain propaganda messages critical of the North’s authoritarian rule and outside news. In 2020, North Korea exploded an empty, South Korean-built liaison office in the North in anger over the South Korean balloon activities.

Experts say North Korea’s balloon campaign, reportedly the first of its kind in seven years, is meant to stoke an internal divide in South Korea over its conservative government’s tough policy on the North. They say North Korea is also expected to further ramp up tensions ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

Since 2022, North Korea has sharply increased a pace of weapons tests to build a bigger nuclear arsenal. Last week, it fired a barrage of nuclear-capable weapons into the sea in a drill simulating a preemptive attack on South Korea.

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Published: 02 Jun 2024, 09:59 PM IST