Tue, Oct 28, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Koreas hold talks amid tension spike

RELATIONS Although Seoul has promised to end government-level propaganda, activists still floated leaflets denouncing North Korea’s leader as ‘wicked’

AFP , SEOUL

South Korean activists release balloons loaded with propaganda leaflets from a boat in waters near the North Korean border yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

North and South Korea held military talks yesterday despite worsening relations as South Korean activists floated propaganda leaflets into the communist state.

The meeting, inside the Demilitarized Zone, which divides the Korean peninsula, was aimed at improving military hotlines between the two nations, the South’s defense ministry said.

“Talks ended before noon. We will disclose the outcome of the meeting later,” a ministry spokesman said.

The two Koreas, which have remained technically at war since their 1950 to 1953 conflict ended in an armistice, have nine military hotlines, one of which is out of service because of technical problems.

North Korea has cut off almost all official contacts with the South since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February and adopted a firmer stance in cross-border relations.

Military talks were held on Oct. 2 but ended without agreement.

The North at that meeting threatened to evict all South Koreans from a joint industrial estate at Kaesong in the North unless Seoul stopped defector groups and activists spreading the leaflets.

The two sides agreed to stop government-level propaganda after their first summit in 2000. But private groups have continued, despite pleas from the Seoul government and from businesses operating in Kaesong.

Eight activists and defectors floated about 40,000 leaflets by balloon into the North yesterday from a boat near the eastern sea border, shouting “Down with [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il!”

The leaflets contained messages urging North Koreans to rise up against Kim, describing him as a “murderous” dictator. They repeated claims that Kim suffers from paralysis following a reported stroke in August.

“Kim Jong-il is the most wicked dictator in the world. You should stage a struggle to overthrow his military dictatorship,” a typical leaflet read.

Choi Sung-young, an activist trying to locate South Koreans abducted by Pyongyang during the Cold War, said his group released four large balloons loaded with the leaflets as well as with US and Chinese currency.

“We will float another 60,000 leaflets later in the day from a location west of Seoul,” Choi said by phone.

He said about 30 plastic bottles containing rice were also released into the sea. “We hope the tidal current will bring rice bottles to our hungry brothers in the North.”

Some leaflets contained a detailed list of South Korean abductees held in the North, he said.

By South Korean count 494 citizens, many of them fishermen, were seized in the decades following the Korean War. In addition, Seoul says more than 500 of its prisoners of war were never sent home.

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