North Korea flies rubbish-filled balloons to South in ‘tit-for-tat’ attack

North Korea has sent hundreds of balloons loaded with rubbish and faeces across the heavily fortified border to the South.

The South Korean military released photos on Wednesday, some showing rubbish strewn around collapsed balloons, with the word “excrement” written on a bag in one photograph. The North said that the swarm, containing toilet paper and suspected animal faeces, was a response to South Korean propaganda campaigns using balloons.

“We sternly warn the North to immediately stop its inhumane and low-class actions,” said Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The North’s actions “clearly violate international laws and seriously threaten the safety of our people,” it added.

The military’s explosives ordnance unit and chemical and biological warfare response team were deployed to inspect and collect the objects, and an alert was issued warning residents to keep away and report any sightings to authorities.

The South Korean authorities had received prior warning of the attack. Kim Kang Il, the North’s vice minister of defence, issued a statement on Sunday warning that “mounds of wastepaper and filth” would be sent to the South as “tit-for-tat action” in response to the flying of “dirty things” to the North.

South Korean activists, often led by North Korean defectors, have regularly sent balloons carrying leaflets with messages critical of Pyongyang and even USB memory sticks with K-pop music videos the other way.

Pyongyang has long been infuriated by the propaganda campaigns, possibly due to concerns that an influx of outside information in the tightly controlled society could pose a threat to Kim Jong Un’s rule.

Previous South Korean governments have sought to stop activists from conducting such campaigns, arguing they did not help advance peace and endangered the safety of residents near the border.

A ban on balloon launches introduced in 2021 was later ruled unconstitutional by a top court, which said it violated freedom of speech.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, the two Koreas remain technically at war and are separated by a heavily fortified border.

Tensions have flared again this week following a failed satellite launch by Pyongyang.

North Korea on Monday attempted to put a second spy satellite into orbit. The country successfully launched its first spy satellite in November at its third attempt, drawing international condemnation.

However, this week’s launch bid ended in a midair explosion.

Seoul had conducted drills with fighter jets hours ahead of the attempt in protest.

That saw North Korean leader Kim Jong Un criticise the South’s “recklessness,” according to a Korean Central News Agency report on Wednesday.