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Balloon launch due in Seoul to promote N.K. rights

WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― A human rights body here said Saturday it will launch balloons deep into North Korea and hold other events in Seoul next month to call international attention to the human rights situation in the reclusive communist state.

“It is now reported that as many as 60 percent of North Koreans now have access to outside information and they are increasingly doubting the regime’s relentless propaganda,” Suzanne Scholte, chairwoman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, said in a statement.

North Korea has denounced the South Korean government and non-governmental organizations for trying to float radios, pamphlets and other materials to expose North Koreans to the popular uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East that toppled the decades-old authoritarian governments in Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks.

North Korea has not yet shown any sign of uneasiness despite chronic economic crisis and severe food shortages.

Few analysts see much chance of any imminent collapse of the impoverished, nuclear-armed regime, citing tight control of information, lack of civil society and the military and ruling elite reluctantly clinging to the Kim Jong-il regime without any intention of risking loss of their vested rights that might follow any drastic changes.

Scholte, however, said she had witnessed changes in the North.

“Average North Koreans are no longer dependent on the regime to survive as over 200 private markets are in existence and the regime has given up trying to control these markets and reassert control over access to food; and perhaps, most significantly, Kim Jong-il’s unprovoked and brutal attacks on South Korea have awakened those living in freedom that we must no longer ignore the human rights of our brothers and sisters for the false promises of this regime to end its nuclear program,” she said.

North Korea shelled a South Korean border island and torpedoed a South Korean warship last year to kill 50 people and derail international efforts to revive the six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs in return for massive economic aid and diplomatic recognition by Washington and Tokyo.

The April 24-30 North Korea Freedom Week would like “to take advantage of the dramatic changes occurring inside North Korea and the change of attitudes in South Korea towards the human rights issues,” Scholte said, noting the events are being held for the second time in a row in the South Korean capital.

The coalition has held the annual events since 2004 either in Washington, D.C. or Seoul.

“The week will conclude with a balloon launch from the Demilitarized Zone and a special festival to celebrate North Korean culture in anticipation of unification,” she said.

Among other events are “a major rally, hearings at the Korean National Assembly, a prayer vigil, a candlelight vigil, a protest at the Embassy of China, exhibits and conferences focusing on the gulag, the abductees and other human rights issues,” she said.
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