260 N. Korean trash balloons floating in the summer sky spark panic bells, red alerts

Posted on : 2024-05-30 17:29 KST Modified on : 2024-05-30 17:29 KST
South Korean authorities confirmed that North Korea staged a GPS signal jamming attack alongside its balloon stunt
Trash from a balloon sent across the border by North Korea litters a street near the Gyeongin Expressway in Seoul’s Guro District. (courtesy of the Joint Chiefs) 
Trash from a balloon sent across the border by North Korea litters a street near the Gyeongin Expressway in Seoul’s Guro District. (courtesy of the Joint Chiefs) 

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced Wednesday that 260 balloons sent by North Korea had been discovered in various locations, including the Seoul/Gyeonggi Province area, Gangwon Province, and the Chungcheong, Yeongnam and Honam regions. 

The balloons in question, which were launched between Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, contained waste matter, among other materials. 

It was also confirmed that North Korea staged a global positioning system (GPS) signal jamming attack along with its balloon launch earlier that morning. 

Many are calling on both sides of the DMZ to stop their scattering of propaganda leaflets, which has been increasing the risks of a military confrontation and endangering the lives of residents along the border. 

On Wednesday, the Joint Chiefs announced that North Korea had been “sending large numbers of balloons into the Republic of Korea since the evening of [May] 28.” 

“These balloons have the potential to cause damage if they fall not only in residential areas but also on airports and highways,” it warned, adding that there had been “actual cases of vehicles and residences [roofs] being damaged in 2016.” 

A balloon sent across the border by North Korea lands in a rice paddy in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, on May 29, 2024. (Yonhap) 
A balloon sent across the border by North Korea lands in a rice paddy in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, on May 29, 2024. (Yonhap) 

A Joint Chiefs headquarters official explained, “Between 2016 and 2017, there were over 1,000 balloons sent toward the South annually.” 

“Around 260 North Korean balloons had been confirmed as of 1600 hours on Wednesday, which is the largest number of balloons sent toward the South in a single day,” they added. 

Members of the armed forces’ chemical-biological-radiological rapid response and explosive ordnance disposal teams have been sent in to collect balloons that have fallen to earth. Plastic bags suspended from the balloons were found to contain various garbage and substances believed to be fecal matter. 

The balloons were reportedly sent by the North Korean military to various locations distant from the Military Demarcation Line. A military official said they had “flown as far [south] as the Yeongnam and Honam regions due to the effects of wind direction and air currents.” 

Scraps of paper from a balloon sent across the border by North Korea litter the ground in Seoul’s Guro District on May 29, 2024. (courtesy of the Joint Chiefs) 
Scraps of paper from a balloon sent across the border by North Korea litter the ground in Seoul’s Guro District on May 29, 2024. (courtesy of the Joint Chiefs) 

The Joint Chiefs said that North Korea’s actions “are in clear violation of international law and severely threaten the safety of South Korean citizens.” 

“Any responsibility [for damages] occurring due to North Korea balloons lies fully with North Korea. We sternly warn [North Korea] to immediately stop these immoral and base actions,” it continued. 

It also advised that anyone who comes across an unidentifiable object that appears to be a North Korean leaflet, do not touch it and instead report it to the nearest military unit or police. 

A Joint Chiefs official also said that North Korea had “attempted a GPS jamming attack between the early and late morning” on Wednesday. The aim appeared to be to heighten the confusion with the launching of balloons. 

In a statement Wednesday, the civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said, “Since the Cold War era, the scattering of leaflets has been regarded as a psychological warfare tactic, and there have been instances in the past where things have reached the brink of a military clash as North Korea has fired anti-aircraft artillery toward leaflets [carried on balloons in its territory].” 

“Both the South and North need to stop provoking each other with antagonistic actions such as leaflet scattering and work to restore communication channels that will allow them to prevent armed clashes and manage crises,” the group urged. 

A South Korean soldier carries bags that are suspected to have come attached to balloons sent over the border by North Korea in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, on May 29, 2024. (Yonhap)
A South Korean soldier carries bags that are suspected to have come attached to balloons sent over the border by North Korea in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, on May 29, 2024. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, some confusion erupted Tuesday evening when alert messages regarding the leaflets that were sent to some parts of the greater Seoul area contained the English words “air raid preliminary warning.” 

In response, the Joint Chiefs said, “There was some confusion in the local government’s translation process, and we are working to identify the correct English phrasing.” 

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

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