South Korean activist floats leaflets north amid tensions

South Korean activist floats leaflets north amid tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A South Korean group launched hundreds of thousands of leaflets per balloon across the border with North Korea at night, an activist said Tuesday, despite Pyongyang repeatedly warning that it will retaliate against such actions.

Activist Park Sang-hak said that on Monday evening, his organization floated 20 huge balloons with 500,000 leaflets, 2,000 one-dollar notes and small books about North Korea from the border town of Paju.

Park, formerly a North Korean who fled to South Korea, said in a statement that his pamphlet “is a fight for justice for the sake of liberating” North Koreans.

This move will certainly exacerbate the already high tensions between the Koreas. North Korea has recently abruptly lifted its rhetoric against South Korean civilian leaflets, destroyed an empty Seoul-built liaison office on its territory, and urged it to resume its psychological war on the South.

Local officials in South Korea said they were looking at the account and possibly asking the police to investigate it as a potential security threat to frontline residents.

Calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “an evil” and his rule “barbarism,” Park said he will continue to send anti-Kim leaflets.

“Although North Korean residents have become modern slaves without basic rights, don’t they have the right to know the truth?” he said.

South Korean officials have vowed to ban leaflets and said they would bring charges against Park and other anti-Pyongyang activists for allegedly raising hostilities and potentially endangering frontier residents. In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire on propaganda balloons that flew into their territory, triggering a fire change that did not cause known causes.

Park accused South Korea’s liberal government of sympathizing with North Korea or yielding to its threats. Park’s brother, another activist who also came from North Korea earlier, canceled plans last week to release bottles filled with dried rice and face masks from a front-line island.

Gyeonggi Province, which governs Paju, has previously issued an administrative order prohibiting activists from entering certain border areas, including Paju, to fly leaflets to the north.

If Park’s leaflet is confirmed, Gyeonggi official Kim Min-yeong said the province will demand that the police investigate him. The penalty for violations is a year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to 10 million won ($ 8,200).

The provincial office said in a statement Tuesday that it had separately requested police to investigate four groups of activists, including Park’s, for alleged fraud, misuse of official means, and other charges. It said the four groups were accused of using pamphlets as a way of collecting donations as part of lending companies, rather than the human rights movements in North Korea.

North Korea does not tolerate outside criticism of its ruling family, which enjoys a strong cult of personality built by North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, whose surprise invasion of South Korea in June 1950 caused a devastating three-year war.

Park previously said he would insist on Thursday, the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, to drop a million leaflets across the border. A large banner that Park said flew to North Korea with the leaflets on Monday shows the image of Kim Il Sung accusing him of “slaughtering (the Korean) people” and urging the North Koreans to stand up to the Kim family rule, according to photos distributed by Park.

At least one of the banners and a balloon with leaflets have been found in Hongcheon, a South Korean city southeast of Paju, and not North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported. Hongcheon police said they could not immediately confirm the report.

In recent weeks, North Korea has released insults against pamphlet activists like Park, describing them as “human trash” and “hybrid dogs.” It said it would also take a series of steps to annul the 2018 stress reduction agreements with South Korea. On Monday, North Korea’s state media said it had produced 12 million propaganda papers to be sent to South Korea in what they believe would be the largest anti-Seoul leaflet campaign ever.

Experts say North Korea likely uses the South Korean civilian directory as an opportunity to strengthen internal unity and put more pressure on Seoul and Washington during stalled nuclear talks.

Although Seoul has sometimes sent police to block activists from leaflets during sensitive times, it had previously opposed North Korea’s calls for activists to use their freedom of expression.

Seoul’s recent actions against pamphlets have led to criticism that the government is sacrificing democratic principles to keep its commitment to inter-Korean involvement alive.

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