(Seoul) North Korea again sent hundreds of garbage balloons toward South Korea and warned Monday that it would retaliate if Seoul continued its “psychological warfare.”

“The latest batch of garbage-laden balloons sent on Sunday contained waste paper and plastic, with no toxic materials detected so far,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to the Yonhap agency.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest levels in years. Analysts warn of a risk that this escalation will lead to real military clashes.

Seoul announced on June 3 the suspension of a 2018 military détente deal with North Korea in its entirety and on Sunday restarted its loudspeaker propaganda campaign for the first time since 2016.

Pyongyang has in recent weeks sent hundreds of balloons weighted with trash such as cigarette butts, toilet paper, and even animal feces to its southern neighbor, in what it describes as a response to the dissemination of propaganda, in particular by leaflets or USB keys, against the North Korean regime by South Korean activists.

Kim’s sister and top government spokeswoman, Kim Yo Jong, warned that South Korea would “suffer bitter humiliation by endlessly collecting waste paper and that it would be a daily task,” in a statement released early Monday morning.

She called the South Korean activists’ leaflets “psychological warfare” and threatened Seoul with retaliation if its campaigns did not stop, according to a statement cited by the official KCNA news agency.  

If Seoul “simultaneously distributes leaflets and loudspeakers of provocations across the border, it will undoubtedly witness the new response” from the North, she added.

Kim’s sister’s statements show that “North Korea is raising its voice to blame South Korea for the current situation and to justify its provocations,” Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

It is likely that the escalation will continue and that “North Korea will do something beyond our imagination,” he suggested.  

The North Koreans could do “something creative like throwing flour, causing absolute panic in the South, which will make them happy,” he said, with such an attack potentially triggering fears of a biological attack in South Korea.

The balloon launches on both sides of the border began when activists from the South, including North Korean defectors, sent dozens of balloons containing anti-Kim Jong-un propaganda and USB sticks northward. containing K-pop.

In response, Pyongyang sent more than a thousand balloons, some containing bags of garbage, which Seoul says violates the armistice agreement that ended hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War. .  

In 2018, during a lull in relations, the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts,” including leafleting and propaganda broadcasts.  

The South Korean parliament tried to block the activists’ action by passing a law in 2020 that punishes the sending of leaflets to the North, but the activists did not stop and the law was invalidated by the Constitutional Court on last year on the grounds that it unduly limited freedom of expression.

The total suspension of the 2018 agreement allows Seoul to resume live-fire exercises and relaunch propaganda campaigns against the North’s regime via loudspeakers along the border.

“It is very possible that the resumption of loudspeaker messages will lead to armed conflict” and that “North Korea will resume its firing in the Yellow Sea or that it will shoot at the balloons if the South sends them again”, Cheong Seong-chang, director of strategy for the Korean peninsula at the Sejong Institute, told AFP.