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North Korea reinstalls border loudspeakers, defectors send leaflets amid rising tensions

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 6/23/2020 Reuters and Park Chan-kyong in Seoul
a man standing next to a body of water: A balloon containing leaflets and a poster denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, his grandfather and his sister, that was released by North Korean defectors on Monday night, is seen after it landed in Hongcheon, South Korea. Photo: Reuters © REUTERS A balloon containing leaflets and a poster denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, his grandfather and his sister, that was released by North Korean defectors on Monday night, is seen after it landed in Hongcheon, South Korea. Photo: Reuters

North Korea is reinstalling loudspeakers blaring propaganda across the border in its latest step away from inter-Korean peace agreements, prompting the South's military to explore similar moves, a South Korean military source said on Tuesday. This came as one group of defectors said it launched 20 balloons containing leaflets, booklets and cash across the border to North Korea overnight, although they do not appear to have made it.

Tension between the two Koreas has risen in recent weeks after the North blew up a joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue, and threatened military action. It also said it would restore dismantled border outposts and send troops back into Seoul-invested Kaesong industrial zone and Mount Kumgang resort on their side, the two most important projects under Seoul's "sunshine policy" of reconciliation, as retaliatory measures.

North Korea's military was seen putting up about 20 loudspeakers near the demilitarised zone (DMZ). Such systems were taken down after the two Koreas signed an accord in 2018 to cease "all hostile acts", the South Korean military official said.

"We're also considering reinstalling our own loudspeakers," he said. "But the North hasn't begun any broadcast yet, and we're just getting ready to be able to counteract at any time."

a large green field with trees in the background: A propaganda loudspeaker is seen inside North Korean territory on June 23. Photo: Reuters © Provided by South China Morning Post A propaganda loudspeaker is seen inside North Korean territory on June 23. Photo: Reuters

A spokeswoman at Seoul's defence ministry declined to confirm North Korea's moves but reiterated at a regular briefing that Pyongyang would "have to pay for the consequences" if it continues to defy joint efforts to foster peace.

The two countries have for decades pumped out propaganda from huge banks of speakers as a form of psychological warfare.

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The South aired a blend of news, Korean pop songs and criticism of the northern regime, while the North blasted the South and praised its own socialist system.

Commercial satellite imagery of the liaison office site on Monday showed that the building remained standing, but had been heavily damaged.

Analysts at US-based 38 North, which tracks North Korea, said last week that the explosion "was clearly not a controlled detonation, as the building was not levelled and there was significant collateral damage to the adjacent buildings".

a circuit board: An inter-Korean liaison office building after being blown up at a closed joint industrial estate in Kaesong, North Korea. Photo: AP © Provided by South China Morning Post An inter-Korean liaison office building after being blown up at a closed joint industrial estate in Kaesong, North Korea. Photo: AP

The North began taking its recent actions as it denounced North Korean defectors in the South who regularly send propaganda leaflets, food, cash, mini radios and USB sticks containing South Korean dramas and news across the border, usually by balloon or in bottles in rivers and the ocean.

Pyongyang's state media on Monday said angry North Koreans have also prepared some 12 million leaflets to be sent back.

On Tuesday, one group of defectors said it had secretly launched 500,000 leaflets, 500 booklets and 2,000 US$1 bills across the border into North Korea, in defiance of a South Korean government ban and legal action to stop such activities.

Park Sang-hak, head of the Fighters for Free North Korea, said six of his colleagues had successfully evaded police surveillance and released gas-filled balloons carrying the leaflets from a location near the western border late on Monday.

Pictures and video footage showed a large banner emblazoned with portraits of the North's founding father Kim Il-sung, the current leader Kim Jong-un and his sister Kim Yo-jong, being floated into the night sky. It carried a slogan saying "Remember the slaughter, grandfather of Kim Jong-un and Kim Yo-jong. People Rise up!"

a group of people in a boat on a river: A balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is found in Hongcheon, South Korea. Photo: Reuters © Provided by South China Morning Post A balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is found in Hongcheon, South Korea. Photo: Reuters

However, the balloons apparently blew to the south, instead of across the North Korean border. The large portrait was found some 10 hours afterwards in a stream in Hongcheon county, some 70km southeast of where the balloons were launched from. Leaflets were also found nearby, Yonhap news agency said.

Lee Min-bok, another defector who pioneered anti-Pyongyang leaflet launches in 2003, said wind directions are different at higher altitudes, and the balloons appear to have failed to get high enough to be carried by northern air currents.

"This means all the balloons floated by Park's colleagues last night must have ended up in the South," Lee said.

The South's Unification Ministry has filed a criminal complaint against the group and other defectors for sending materials to the North without required government permission.

But Park has vowed to continue with the launches, saying they were a "a fight for the freedom of North Korean people".

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