South Korea Warns of Parasite Risk After North Korea Sends Balloons Filled with Trash and Waste

A balloon presumably sent by North Korea, is seen in a paddy field in Incheon, South Korea, on June 10, 2024.

North Korea has launched a new wave of balloon-borne trash across the border into South Korea, following Seoul’s announcement of parasite detection in earlier shipments. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported approximately 350 balloons were launched on Monday night, with the government urging citizens to refrain from touching any recovered materials.

Around 100 balloons primarily landed in northern Gyeonggi province, encircling Seoul, and the capital region, the JCS revealed on Tuesday. “The contents were mostly paper waste and there have been no safety hazards so far,” the JCS stated.

This latest dispatch occurred shortly after South Korea’s Unification Ministry disclosed that an examination of over 1,600 balloons sent by North Korea since late May revealed parasites linked to fecal matter alongside cut-up underwear, neckties, and socks.

Tensions have been escalating along the heavily fortified Korean border zone in recent weeks. Kim Yo Jong, the outspoken sister of North Korea’s leader, threatened further balloon launches in response to South Korean activists’ balloon deployments into North Korea earlier this month.

She also urged South Korea to discontinue the resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts directed northward across the border, which were suspended under a 2018 agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang, now considered defunct by both governments.

South Korea is actively seeking a response to this latest deployment of trash balloons.

“Our military’s propaganda warfare broadcasts against North Korea are ready to be implemented immediately,” the JCS said. “We will implement them flexibly depending on the strategic and operational situation, and this will depend on North Korea’s actions,” it added.

For decades, activist groups in South Korea, many comprised of North Korean defectors who have settled in the country, have sent balloons carrying leaflets criticizing the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea since its founding. These balloon shipments have also included U.S. dollar bills, bags of rice, and USB sticks loaded with K-pop music, intended to entice North Koreans to retrieve the contents.

North Korea has vehemently condemned these defectors as “human scum” and demanded Seoul halt the balloon launches. Pyongyang has also engaged in its own balloon deployments across the border for years.

The last significant balloon campaign from North Korea prior to this was in 2016, when it sent propaganda leaflets across the border denouncing then President Park Geun-hye as a puppet of former U.S. President Barack Obama and then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Relations on the peninsula experienced a realignment this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to meet with leader Kim Jong Un, resulting in a pact where the two countries pledged to come to each other’s aid if attacked. This agreement likely necessitates the U.S. and its allies to re-evaluate potential outcomes if they deploy weapons against North Korea.

The U.S., along with allies Japan and South Korea, this week strongly condemned the deepening military collaboration between Russia and North Korea, describing it as a serious concern and a threat to regional stability. They also interpreted Putin’s visit as advancing the transfer of munitions from Kim’s regime to support Putin’s war in Ukraine.