Fri, Oct 17, 2008 - Page 5 News List

N Korea defectors drop leaflets condemning leader

AP , YEONGJONG ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA

The North Korean trembled when he spotted the leaflet that had fluttered down from a balloon dispatched from the South. He snatched it, stuffed it into his pocket and ran to the bathroom to read it.

Park Sang-hak says he read that slip of vinyl — which bragged about the good life North Korean defectors were enjoying in South Korea — more than 15 times in disbelief.

Fifteen years later, Park is now on the other side of the border.

He defected to South Korea in 1999 and now helps launch propaganda balloons filled with leaflets denouncing the Stalinist regime.

The 12m balloons — fueled by hydrogen and shaped like missiles — are the most direct way to reach people living in one of the world’s most isolated nations. Few North Koreans have access to cellphones or the Internet, and millions have no way of getting in contact with relatives living in South Korea.

For decades, the rival Koreas waged a fierce ideological battle using leaflets, loudspeakers and radio broadcasts across the heavily fortified border. At the height of the propaganda war, South Korea’s military loudspeakers blared propaganda 20 hours a day, an official from the psychological unit of the South Korean army said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was not authorized to speak to media.

But then the two Koreas embarked on a path to reconciliation that led to the first landmark summit between their leaders in 2000. They agreed in 2004 to end the propaganda.

Still, activists and defectors continue to send balloons filled with leaflets across the border, despite pleas from Seoul to stop at a time when inter-Korean relations are at their lowest point in years. The activists hope to spark a rebellion to overthrow Kim Jong-il.

Last week, the North threatened to expel South Koreans working at two joint projects north of the border and warned of “new military clashes” if leaflets criticizing Kim — an illegal offense in North Korea — continue.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said there are no legal grounds for prosecuting those who send leaflets, citing freedom of expression.

Park, 40, says he’s an ardent advocate of the propaganda campaigns.

“I am trying to tell the truth to North Koreans who do not even know they are living under dictatorship,” Park said.

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