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South Korea says the North has flown balloons carrying trash over the border : NPR

This photo provided by the South Korean Defense Ministry shows balloons containing waste likely sent by North Korea, in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea, on Wednesday.

AP/Ministry of Defense of South Korea

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AP/Ministry of Defense of South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has sent hundreds of balloons carrying trash toward South Korea in one of its most bizarre provocations against its rival in years, prompting the South’s military Korea to mobilize chemical and explosive response teams to recover objects and debris in different parts of the country. the country.

The balloon campaign came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged his military scientists to overcome a failed satellite launch and continue developing space reconnaissance capabilities, which he called crucial to countering American and South Korean military activities, state media said Wednesday.

In his first public comments on the launch failure, Kim also warned of unspecified “severe” action against South Korea over an exercise involving 20 fighter jets near the inter-Korean border hours before North Korea’s failed launch on Monday. In a speech Tuesday, Kim called the South Korean response “hysterical madness” and “a very dangerous provocation that cannot be ignored,” the North’s official news agency said Wednesday.

In another sign of tensions between the war-divided rivals, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea had also sent a large number of balloons carrying trash to the South since Tuesday evening, in apparent retaliation against South Korean activists for transporting waste. Propaganda leaflets from Pyongyang across the border.

South Korea’s military said about 260 North Korean balloons were discovered Wednesday afternoon in various parts of the country and were being recovered by military rapid response and mine clearance teams. He advised civilians not to touch items from North Korea and to report to the military or police after discovering them.

Photos released by the military showed trash strewn across highways and roads in different parts of the country. In the capital, Seoul, military officials discovered what appeared to be a timer likely designed to burst trash bags in mid-air. In the central province of South Chungcheong, two huge balloons carrying an undeflated plastic bag filled with dirt-like substances were seen on a road.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the balloons. Similar North Korean balloon activities damaged cars and other property in 2016.

In a statement released over the weekend, North Korean Deputy Defense Minister Kim Kang Il said the North planned to scatter “mounds of waste paper and trash” across border and border areas. other parts of South Korea, in what he described as “revenge.” tat” against the distribution of leaflets by South Korean activists.

Kim Jong Un’s comments on the satellite came from a speech at the North’s Academy of Defense Sciences, where he visited a day after the explosion of a rocket carrying what would have been the second military reconnaissance satellite of his country, shortly after takeoff. North Korea’s Aerospace Technology Administration said the explosion may have been linked to the reliability of a new rocket engine fueled by oil and using liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.

Animosities between the Koreas are at their worst level in years as the pace of Kim’s weapons demonstrations and South Korea’s combined military exercises with the United States and Japan has intensified since 2022.

The satellite launch failure is a setback for Kim’s plan to launch three more military spy satellites in 2024 after North Korea’s first military reconnaissance satellite went into orbit last November. The November launch followed two failed attempts.

Monday’s launch drew criticism from South Korea, Japan and the United States, as the United Nations bans North Korea from carrying out such rocket launches, viewing them as a cover for testing long-range missile technology.

North Korea has firmly maintained that it has the right to launch satellites and test missiles in the face of what it perceives as U.S.-led military threats. Kim has described spy satellites as crucial to monitoring U.S. and South Korean military activities and enhancing the threat posed by its nuclear-capable missiles.

“The acquisition of military reconnaissance satellites is an essential task for our country to further strengthen our self-defense deterrence (…) in the face of serious changes in our country’s security environment brought about by U.S. military maneuvers and various provocative acts,” Kim said.

North Korea has not said when it would be ready to attempt a satellite launch again, which some experts say could take months.

State media’s mention of a liquid oxygen and oil rocket engine suggests the North is trying to develop a more powerful space launch vehicle capable of carrying larger payloads, some South Korean experts say.

Previous North Korean space rockets are believed to have used asymmetric dimethylhydrazine as a fuel and dinitrogen tetroxide as an oxidizer. The country’s rapid transition in space rocket design perhaps indicates external technological help, which would likely come from Russia, said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at South Korea’s Research Institute for National Strategy .

Kim has raised the profile of his ties with Russia in recent months, as evidenced by his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September, as they align over their separate confrontations with Washington. Kim’s meeting with Putin took place at a spaceport in Russia’s Far East and came after North Korea’s consecutive failures in its attempts to launch its first spy satellite. Putin later told Russian journalists that Moscow was ready to help the North build satellites.

The United States and South Korea have also accused North Korea of ​​supplying Russia with artillery shells, missiles and other military equipment to help prolong its fighting in Ukraine.

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