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Anti-North Korean leaflets floated across border, Pyongyang issues threat

Updated On: Oct 23, 2012

An attempt on Monday by a South Korean coalition of non-government groups to drop anti-North Korean leaflets across the border was been blocked by South Korean police, but activists were able to send the balloons into North Korea in subsequent efforts. The campaign has previously resulted in threats from the North Korean government. The US Special Envoy for North Korea has urged Pyongyang not to overreact to the incident.

Balloon Campaign

The non-government coalition, comprising of North Korean exiles and human rights activists, planned to send giant balloons containing anti-North Korean government leaflets across the border on Monday, 22 Oct (pictured), containing messages showing the vast economic and living disparities between North and South Korea and messages contradicting North Korea’s official history books.

According to North Korea’s state news agency, Pyongyang said “a merciless military strike by the Western Front will be put into practice without warning” if the coalition was to carry out their plan of dropping the leaflets.  A tourist area in the city of Paju would also be targeted.

Following the threats issued by North Korea, South Korean police proceeded to block the activists from sending the leaflets.  According to police officials, the decision to block the activists was due to “security concerns” they had after receiving the threats.

Despite the earlier block by the South Korean police, reports say the activists managed to float balloons carrying tens of thousands of anti-Pyongyang leaflets into North Korea in later attempts at a second site. However, there has yet to be any response from North Korea.

Report: North Korea says will fire on South if leaflets dropped [TodayOnline, 19 October 2012]

Report: Leaflets Sent by Balloon to North Korea Despite Ban, Activists Say [The New York Times, 22 October 2012]

US Comments

The U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea, Glyn Davis, also warned Pyongyang against any provocations following the threats.

“Provocations from North Korea at bad at any time, in any circumstance, but I think particularly as we go through these internal processes it’s important that we not see any acting out by North Korea,” Mr. Davis said.

He also added: “It is grossly disproportionate to have threatened to respond to balloons with bombs.  We call on (North Korea) to desist from this sort of destabilizing, threatening behaviour in the future.”

Mr. Davies was wrapping up talks over the past week with Japan, South Korea and China on their common goal of denuclearising North Korea and achieving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. Mr. Davies has highlighted that a majority of members of the grouping are entering a period of elections or political change of some kind. Presidential elections are scheduled in the United States in November and South Korea in December. China is set for a once-a-decade leadership overhaul next month and there is increasing talk of a snap general election in Japan.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Davies said "it's important that conditions of peace and stability on the peninsula be kept" during such elections and changes.

Report: South Korea blocks propaganda launch after North Korea threat [Channel NewsAsia, 22 October 2012]

Report: US warns North Korea against provocations [Channel NewsAsia, 22 October 2012]

Why Publicize The Launch?

If the activists are mainly interested in getting the balloons into North Korea, why publicize their launch plans ahead of time? According to one of the activist leaders, Kim Sung-min of Free North Korea Radio, announcing the balloon launches is another way of putting pressure on Pyongyang. He said that only about 1 out of 10 balloon launches is publicized.

“Many people have the opinion that it would be better if we did it secretly,” Mr. Kim said. But he added that there’s some value in causing a stir with publicity. “The North authority shows anger about the action, but I think it’s strategically right,” he said.

Report: Why Do Balloon Activists Warn North Korea? [Wall Street Journal, 23 Oct 2012]