After North Korea sends trash balloons, activists respond with K-pop and K-dramas

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Trash spills from a broken balloon believed to be sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024. (AP)

SOUTH KOREA, June 6: South Korean activists reignited a cross-border propaganda war on Thursday by sending balloons loaded with USB sticks containing K-pop and K-dramas to North Korea, just days after North Korean balloons filled with trash and “filth” floated into the South.

The activist group Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK) launched the balloons early Thursday morning. Videos showed the balloons drifting away, some trailing large posters, while others carried smaller plastic packages. According to FFNK, the packages contained 200,000 leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, 5,000 USB sticks with South Korean music videos and TV shows, and 2,000 one-dollar bills.

For years, groups like FFNK have been sending balloons carrying items banned in North Korea, including food, medicine, radios, propaganda leaflets, and South Korean news. In response, North Korea sent its balloons south in May, filled with trash, soil, and other debris, which South Korean authorities described as “filth.”

Pyongyang claimed to have launched 3,500 balloons carrying 15 tonnes of trash, according to state media KCNA, citing Vice Defense Minister Kim Kang Il. These balloons began landing in South Korea last week, disrupting flights and prompting warnings for residents to stay indoors. The South Korean military has found about 1,000 balloons as of Monday.

Despite a government ban, South Korean activists, including FFNK leader Park Sang-hak, a defector from North Korea, vow to continue their balloon campaigns. Park described the materials they send as “letters of truth and freedom.” Recalling his own experience with such balloons in 1992, Park said they provided him with a rare glimpse into the outside world, ultimately leading to his escape to South Korea in 2000.

The leaflets sent by Park and his group include information about the Kim family, such as the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, and booklets on South Korea’s economic and political development. Park criticized North Korea’s retaliation, saying, “We sent money, medicine, facts, truth, and love, but to send filth and trash in return? That’s an inhumane and barbaric act.”

The balloon exchanges have heightened tensions between the two Koreas. Some South Korean residents near the border, like 84-year-old Song Kwang-ja of Yongin City, expressed anxiety, recalling past conflicts and worrying about the potential for renewed hostilities.

In response to the increased tensions, South Korea announced this week that it would resume “all military activities” near the demarcation line, suspending a 2018 agreement that had been part of a brief period of improved relations between the two nations.

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