(3rd LD) S. Korea to resume propaganda broadcasts against N. Korea’s trash-balloon campaign

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 15-18; ADDS byline)
By Kim Eun-jung and Chae Yun-hwan

SEOUL, June 9 (Yonhap) — South Korea will install loudspeakers near the border and resume propaganda broadcasts Sunday, the presidential office said, in response to North Korea’s repeated launches of balloons filled with trash.

It would be the first propaganda broadcast near the heavily fortified border since January 2016, when the South Korean military resumed its loudspeaker campaign in retaliation for North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.

The National Security Council (NSC) convened an emergency meeting and approved the measure, a day after the North floated the balloons in retaliation against South Korean civic groups’ recent launch of balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border.

“Although the measures we are taking may be difficult for the North Korean regime to endure, they will deliver messages of light and hope to the North Korean military and citizens,” the presidential office said in a release.

“We make it clear that the responsibility for any escalation of tension between the two Koreas will lie entirely with North Korea,” it said.

A South Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone bisecting the two Koreas is seen in this photo taken on June 7, 2024. (Yonhap)

A South Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone bisecting the two Koreas is seen in this photo taken on June 7, 2024. (Yonhap)

The NSC participants shared the consensus any North Korean attempts to cause public concerns and confusion are “unacceptable” and agreed to take “corresponding measures” against Pyongyang’s balloon campaigns.

“The government will maintain a firm and thorough state of readiness against any provocations from North Korea to ensure public safety and national security,” it said.

The expanded NSC meeting was presided over by NSC adviser Chang Ho-jin and attended by the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and unification as well as the spy agency chief, the government coordination policy chief and deputy directors of the national security office.

The announcement came hours after the South Korean military said it detected some 330 waste-carrying balloons launched by the North since Saturday, with more than 80 of them landing inside South Korea.

The North has staged the balloon campaign, which it described as a “tit-for-tat” response to anti-Pyongyang leafleting by activists in South Korea. It launched nearly 1,000 trash-carrying balloons into the South late last month and early last week.

For years, North Korean defectors in the South and conservative activists have sent leaflets to the North via balloons to help encourage North Koreans to eventually rise up against the Pyongyang regime.

North Korea has bristled at the propaganda campaign amid concern that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to its leader Kim Jong-un.

In 2014, the two Koreas exchanged machine-gun fire across the border after the North apparently tried to shoot down balloons carrying propaganda leaflets critical of North Korea.

Balloons carrying garbage, presumably sent by North Korea, are seen floating on the Yellow Sea on June 9, 2024, in this photo provided by the Seven Stars cruise ship. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Balloons carrying garbage, presumably sent by North Korea, are seen floating on the Yellow Sea on June 9, 2024, in this photo provided by the Seven Stars cruise ship. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

With the NSC’s approval, the military is expected to resume the propaganda broadcasts on the front lines later in the day.

Last week, the military conducted drills to operate the propaganda loudspeakers for the first time since 2018, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The Echo of Freedom exercise inspected operational procedures of the equipment to inform North Koreans of the reality of their country, South Korea’s development over the years and its popular culture, the JCS said.

A JCS official said the military has completed preparations for loudspeaker operations, noting that it will broadcast “Voice of Freedom,” a radio program run by the defense ministry’s psychological warfare unit.

The official, however, declined to provide details of the operation, such as the specific timing of the resumption, the amount of equipment mobilized and its location.

The fixed loudspeakers were dismantled following the 2018 inter-Korean tension pact and have been stored in warehouses, while the mobile units are parked by nearby military bases, according to military officials.

Fixed loudspeakers, audible up to 24 kilometers, had been installed at around 10 front-line locations, while about 40 mobile units, with a greater range, were also used.

Loudspeaker propaganda began in 1963 under former President Park Chung-hee’s administration and was halted in 2004 following an inter-Korean military agreement during the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration.

In 2015, the two Koreas engaged in a brief exchange of artillery fire over the western part of their border over a propaganda loudspeaker campaign that Seoul resumed in retaliation for North Korea’s land mine attack, which had maimed two South Korean soldiers. North Korea later expressed regret over the land mine attack and South Korea agreed to halt anti-Pyongyang broadcasts.

The propaganda campaign has been suspended since April 2018, when then President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to halt hostile acts along the border following their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom.

Sunday’s meeting came a week after the NSC members discussed responses against Pyongyang’s balloon campaigns and GPS jamming attacks in the Yellow Sea.

After the last meeting, Chang said the government will take an “unbearable action” against the North’s provocations.

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday endorsed a motion to fully suspend the 2018 inter-Korean tension reduction pact, which cleared the way for resuming propaganda broadcasts near the border.

The 2018 deal included setting up buffer zones around the border to suspend large-scale military drills, as well as banning hostile acts between the two Koreas.

Tension remains high as the South Korean military vowed to resume all military activities near the Military Demarcation Line and its northwestern border islands for the first time in more than five years following the full suspension of the Comprehensive Military Agreement.



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