North Korea to Halt Aerial Delivery of Trash-Filled Balloons to South at Least Temporarily

North Korea has agreed to halt its campaign of sending balloons filled with trash and manure to South Korea, claiming the move was intended to give its southern neighbors a firsthand experience of “how much unpleasant they feel.”

The announcement came just hours after South Korea vowed to retaliate “unbearably” against the North for its recent balloon activities and other provocations, reported the Associated Press.

Last week, North Korea launched a barrage of balloons carrying waste and dung toward South Korea, prompting the South’s military to deploy chemical and explosive response teams to collect the objects and debris from various locations.

The balloon campaign coincided with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urging his military scientists to overcome a recent failed satellite launch and continue developing space-based reconnaissance capabilities. He emphasized the importance of these efforts in countering U.S. and South Korean military activities, state media reported on Wednesday.

Observers speculated that South Korea was preparing to resume its own leafleting campaign into North Korea, criticizing the country for human rights violations and broadcasting world news and K-pop songs.

North Korean leaders are sensitive to these broadcasts as the majority of the country’s 26 million people have limited access to foreign radio and television programs.

Kim Kang II, North Korea’s vice defense minister, announced on Sunday that the country would temporarily suspend its balloon activities, describing them as a countermeasure to the South’s leafleting campaign.

“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 added that if South Korean activists continued to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets into North Korea via balloons, the North would resume its own balloon campaign, dropping “hundreds of times” more rubbish than the South Koreans had distributed leaflets in the North.

South Korea reported finding over 700 balloons scattered across the country, in addition to nearly 260 recovered earlier.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the balloons carried manure, cigarette butts, scraps of cloth, waste paper, and vinyl. No dangerous substances were identified.

Despite South Korea’s claim that approximately 1,000 balloons were launched, North Korea’s vice defense minister asserted that 3,500 balloons were released, carrying 15 tons of waste.

Chang Ho-jin, South Korea’s national security director, announced on Sunday that the government had decided to take “unbearable” measures against North Korea in retaliation for the balloon launches, alleged jamming of GPS navigational signals in South Korea, and simulated nuclear strikes against the South.

Experts believe that North Korea’s balloon campaign, reportedly the first of its kind in seven years, aims to fuel internal divisions in South Korea over its conservative government’s hardline stance toward the North.

Tensions between the Koreas have escalated significantly in recent years due to increased military exercises conducted by both sides, along with South Korea’s joint military drills with the U.S. and Japan since 2022.

The failed satellite launch represented a setback in Kim’s plan to launch three more military spy satellites in 2024, following the successful launch of North Korea’s first military reconnaissance satellite in November last year. The November launch came after two earlier failed attempts.

North Korea maintains its right to launch satellites and test missiles, citing perceived military threats from the U.S. Kim has emphasized the importance of spy satellites in monitoring U.S. and South Korean military activities and enhancing the threat posed by his nuclear-capable missiles.

“Given the fact that the security environment for our state is undergoing drastic changes owing to U.S. military maneuvers and provocations of all sorts, possessing military reconnaissance satellites presents itself as a prerequisite for our state to bolster up its self-defensive deterrent and safeguard its sovereignty and security from potential threats,” Kim said.

“Although we failed to achieve the results we had hoped to get in the recent reconnaissance satellite launch, we must never feel scared or dispirited but make still greater efforts. It is natural that one learns more and makes greater progress after experiencing failure.”

North Korea has not disclosed when it plans to attempt another satellite launch, which experts estimate could take months to prepare.

In recent months, Kim has sought to strengthen his ties with Russia, meeting with President Vladimir Putin in September amidst their respective confrontations with the U.S.

Kim’s meeting with Putin took place at a spaceport in the Russian Far East and followed North Korea’s consecutive failed attempts to launch its first spy satellite. Putin expressed Russia’s willingness to assist the North with satellite development.

The U.S. and South Korea have also accused North Korea of supplying Russia with artillery shells, missiles, and other military equipment to support its ongoing conflict in Ukraine.