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Activists to fly anti-N.K. balloons next month

Leftist groups to hold separate demonstration at Imjingak near border


South Korean activists said Monday they have asked the government to approve their plan to fly anti-North Korea propaganda balloons across the border ahead of the birthday of the communist state’s late founder.

It is the first time for rightist groups here to officially notify the government of the propaganda activity that has long been a source of tension between the two Koreas.

The move by human rights groups, including the Fighters for Free North Korea, to resume propaganda activities comes amid repeated efforts by the two Koreas to overcome last year’s issues and reopen their regular dialogue channel.

Seoul and Pyongyang, who are technically still at war and exchanged fire as recently as November last year, will hold a meeting of geologists Tuesday to discuss cooperative measures over a dormant volcano in the North.

Activists said they plan to fly the balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets from Imjingak, a tourism pavilion located south of the inter-Korean border village, from April 9 through 15, which is the birthday of Pyongyang’s founder Kim Il-sung. The elder Kim died in 1994, handing over the reclusive regime to the incumbent Kim Jong-il.

Though claimed “lawful” by the rightist groups, it is feared the upcoming event could spark internal tension as progressive groups have notified authorities in Imjingak of a separate demonstration criticizing the anti-Pyongyang activities through April 9.

“There should not be any problem as we have formally notified authorities about the upcoming event. Also, we will only start flying balloons from April 9, when they (progressive groups) end their demonstration,” said Choi Sung-yong, head of a group of South Koreans whose family members were abducted by North Korea.

Imjingak has emerged as a potential flash point after Pyongyang threatened last month of shooting at it unless Seoul halts the propaganda activities.

North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive and totalitarian states, keeps its people largely isolated from outside news and strictly forbids them from possessing goods that are not distributed by the ruling Workers’ Party.

Although activists rarely reveal the exact contents of the balloons, they are believed to contain consumer goods and anti-communist books and video tapes, along with leaflets to rattle the Pyongyang regime.

The anti-North Korean activities are “highly influential” and therefore “very important,” Choi said.

“North Korea behaves sensitively toward our activities because they actually influence and have the potential of changing its people,” he said.

Changing stance from its progressive predecessor, Seoul’s right-leaning Lee Myung-bak government has not banned the anti-Pyongyang activities and has been preparing for a collapse of the North Korean regime though it does not officially admit it.

The impoverished North Korean regime is currently going through an unstable power transfer from its ailing leader Kim to his inexperienced and youngest son, a move outsiders say may lead to its sudden collapse.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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