Defectors from North Korea scuffled yesterday with protesters trying to stop their campaign to send anti-North Korean leaflets condemning leader Kim Jong-il near the heavily militarized border.
About 20 left-wing protesters confronted a group of defectors and activists seeking to send some 100,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border in huge balloons. The two groups of activists spit, hit and kicked each other.
Some 100 riot police were deployed near the area to break up the clash. A man from those opposed to the propaganda campaign sustained a minor head injury, a police official said. He asked not be named as he was not authorized to speak to media.
Those opposed to the propaganda campaign said that sending the leaflets into the North would hurt inter-Korean relations, and they condemned the South Korean government for not cracking down on the campaign.
The scuffle showed the deepening ideological division in South Korea over how to deal with North Korea amid tensions on the divided peninsula. North Korea has ratcheted up accusations against South Korea in recent weeks over what it calls Seoul’s refusal to clamp down on “confrontational” activities, including activists’ distribution of anti-North Korean leaflets.
Despite the violence, the anti-Pyongyang activists managed to send one balloon across the border filled with about 30,000 leaflets; some 70,000 other flyers ended up scattered along a bridge and other areas.
“We will send the leaflets every day if the weather permits,” activist Choi Sung-yong said after launching the balloon.
Relations between the two Koreas have deteriorated since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February with a pledge to take a firmer position on the North than his liberal predecessors, with Pyongyang citing the leafletting as one sign of Lee’s hard-line stance.
The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to end decades of propaganda warfare. South Korea says it cannot ban the activists from sending the flyers because of freedom of speech but the government has asked the activists to stop the practice.
The 12m-tall propaganda-carrying 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.
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il went to the Pyongyang zoo and visited the tigers, bears and aquarium, state-run media said yesterday, the latest in a spate of reports depicting Kim as fit three months after his reported stroke.
During the visit, Kim praised the reconstruction of the Central Zoo at the foot of Mount Taesong, calling it a treasure of the communist nation, the Korean Central News Agency said from the capital, Pyongyang.