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Pyongyang, Seoul agree: Defector must stop launching leaflet-filled balloons into North Korea

Amid increasing pressure from South Korea, balloon pamphleteer vows to continue.

Updated: July 10, 2020 - 11:03pm

A defector from North Korea has brought unexpected unity between Pyongyang and Seoul, whose leaders want him to stop sending leaflet-filled balloons across the Demilitarized Zone into his former homeland.

Park Sang-hak, who defected across the 38th parallel two decades ago, has for years used balloons to deliver messages into North Korea, condemning the regime there. He is not the only balloon pamphleteer, but his NGO Fighters for Free North Korea has been both prolific and recalcitrant.

He sends scores of elongated clear balloons, resembling tubes affixed to bundles, hoping that the wind will carry them deep into North Korea. 

On Monday, amid increasing South Korean government pressure to cease and desist, Park pledged in a press conference to keep launching. His freedom of speech and other rights were being curtailed, he said, by a “left-wing dictatorship” in Seoul.

“I believe [South] Korea is mired in Stockholm syndrome,” Park told reporters. “It is as if a thief is grabbing the guard by his throat and saying the guard is the thief, or a murderer suing a policeman.”

The launches are part of ongoing efforts by activists to send news and counter-messaging into North Korea, via balloons or by water bottles floated on the tide. Predictably, the messages have angered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose regime does not tolerate dissent.

In April 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to block the pamphleteers from sending information into North Korea, according to Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the Virginia-based North Korea Freedom Coalition, an advocacy group.

“Most recently, Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong demanded they be stopped, and so Moon has intensified the efforts to stop this outreach,” Scholte told Just the News.

In June, the balloons so enraged the Hermit Kingdom that it blew up the North-South liaison office near the DMZ. 

Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, reportedly told Tass News Agency that the rage was triggered by balloons carrying pornographic DVDs featuring an image of Kim Jong Un’s wife.  

North Korea’s explosive response — whether due to Matsegora’s explanation or something else — is reason to continue sending the balloons, Scholte said. 

“Sister Kim Yo Jong’s latest tantrums confirm that balloon launches are effective,” according to Scholte.

The Moon administration, though, views them as stirring trouble in tense times. 

In early June, the Republic of Korea Government denounced the balloon launches, saying that they pollute the environment and impose a burden on local residents who collect the downed balloons. Additionally, wrote the Ministry of Unification, the balloons create “tensions between the South and the North” and present “a risk to the lives and safety of residents living in the border area.”

The South Korean government then cancelled the nonprofit status of two primary balloon launchers. 

Park Sang-hak responded with defiance.

“As long as Kim Jong Un continues to threaten South Korea with nuclear missiles, we will continue to send leaflets to North Korea,” he said at his press conference. “I believe there are forces that are trying to put me in jail, but I believe that going to jail in summer heat would be cool and nice and a second or third Park Sang-hak will continue to send leaflets to North Korea.”

People in North Korea receive and read the messages, Scholte told Just the News. Therefore, she said, Park will continue to send his balloons northward, despite the risk of arrest. 

Pyongyang in June reportedly shut down the military hotline between the two Koreas in protest against the balloons, and has not restored communication.


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