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Seoul to press charges against defector groups sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets

Members of Fighters for Free North Korea send balloons carrying anti-North leaflets across the border. (Yonhap)
Members of Fighters for Free North Korea send balloons carrying anti-North leaflets across the border. (Yonhap)

The Unification Ministry on Wednesday said it would press charges against two defector-run civic groups for sending anti-North Korean leaflets and bottles filled with rice across the border, a day after Pyongyang ceased all communication with Seoul over the matter. 

The ministry said the two groups, Fighters for a Free North Korea, led by defector Park Sang-hak, and Keumsaem, headed by Park’s younger brother Park Jung-oh, violated the inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation law by sending unauthorized materials to the North. It is also taking action to revoke the groups’ business permits. 

“The two organizations have created tension between the South and North, and have endangered the lives and safety of residents in the border area,” ministry spokesperson Yoh Sang-key told reporters. 

Under the law governing inter-Korean exchanges, people who wish to take goods out of North Korea or bring them in must obtain approval from the minister of unification. But in the past, the government has not taken issue with the launches, although it advised the groups not to send leaflets, citing environmental concerns and the safety of residents in border areas because the North could retaliate. 

Defector groups have often ignored those appeals, citing their right to freedom of expression. The Unification Ministry said last week that it planned to introduce a new law to effectively ban the leaflet launches. 

Last month, Fighters for a Free North Korea released 20 balloons carrying 500,000 propaganda leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and 1,000 SD cards, part of a campaign that it has continued for years. It also announced plans to send 1 million leaflets on June 25 to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. 

Keunsaem has periodically floated rice-filled bottles into North Korea from a border town for the past five years. On Monday the organization was unable to release the bottles because it met with strong resistance from residents.

The ministry announced its intentions a day after North Korea terminated all inter-Korean communication channels and vowed to take further steps if Seoul did not stop the leaflet launches. Pyongyang had been ratcheting up its threats since last week, saying it would shutter the inter-Korean liaison office, permanently close the long-suspended industrial park in Kaesong and scrap the 2018 cross-border military agreement.

By Ahn Sung-mi (