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North Korea resumes flying balloons in likely bid to drop trash on South Korea again, Seoul says


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea resumed flying balloons on Saturday in a likely attempt to drop trash on South Korea again, South Korea’s military said, two days after Seoul activists floated their own balloons to scatter propaganda leaflets in the North.

Animosities between the two Koreas have risen recently because North Korea launched hundreds of balloons carrying manure and trash toward South Korea in protest of previous South Korean civilian leafletting campaigns. In response, South Korea suspended a tension-easing agreement with North Korea to restore front-line military activities.

Saturday’s balloon launches by North Korea were the third of their kind since May 28. It wasn’t immediately known if any of of the North Korean balloons had landed on South Korean territory across the rivals’ tense border.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that North Korean balloons likely carrying trash were moving in an eastward direction but they could eventually fly toward the south because the wind direction was forecast to change later.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff advised the public to beware of falling objects and not to touch balloons found on the ground but report them to police or military authorities.

After the North's two rounds of balloon activities, South Korean authorities discovered about 1,000 balloons which were tied to vinyl bags containing manure, cigarette butts, scraps of cloth, waste batteries and waste papers. Some were popped and scattered on roads, residential areas and schools. No highly dangerous materials were found and no major damage has been reported.

The North’s vice defense minister, Kim Kang Il, later said his country would stop the balloon campaign but threatened to resume it if South Korean activists sent leaflets again.

In defiance of the warning, a South Korean civilian group led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, said it launched 10 balloons from a border town on Thursday carrying 200,000 anti-North Korean leaflets, USB sticks with K-pop songs and South Korean dramas, and $1 U.S. bills. South Korean media reported another activist group also flew balloons with 200,000 propaganda leaflets toward North Korea on Friday.

South Korean officials called the North Korean trash balloon launches and other recent provocations as “absurd, irrational" and vowed strong retaliation. South Korea's suspension of the 2018 military agreement with North Korea would allow it to restart live-fire military drills and anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts at border areas, actions that are certain to anger North Korea and prompt it to take its own retaliatory military steps.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to South Korean civilian leafletting campaigns and front-line propaganda broadcasts as it forbids access to foreign news for most of its 26 million people. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a third generation of his family to rule North Korea with an iron fist since 1948.

Experts say North Korea's balloon campaign is also meant to cause a divide in South Korea over its conservative government's tough approach on North Korea.

Liberal lawmakers, some civic groups and front-line residents in South Korea have called on the government to urge leafleting activists to stop flying balloons to avoid unnecessary clashes with North Korea. But government officials haven't made such an appeal in line with last year's constitutional court ruling that struck down a law criminalizing an anti-North Korea leafletting as a violation of free speech.