Seoul doesn’t want balloons to anger Pyongyang
National Security Chief Kim Kwan-jin on Saturday held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, which was attended by Defense and Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service senior officials. Pyongyang has threatened to scrap all talks with the South after the exchange of fire on Friday.
A government official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday, “The relevant government branches shared a mindset at the meeting that it is desirable to maintain the momentum towards improvement of North-South relations following the visit of the high-delegation from North Korea to the Incheon Asian Games, including Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so.
“We will consider encouraging the leaders of the organizations dispatching the leaflets to make a serious and sensible judgment and form a police barricade around areas where the leaflets are released,” the official added. “There is considerable opposition to the sending of the leaflets from residents of the border regions.”
On Friday, North Korea fired anti-aircraft rounds at balloons launched by South Korean civic groups carrying around 200,000 anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets over the inter-Korean border.
Some of the shots landed on the southern side near military units and public service centers in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi, near the demilitarized zone, prompting the South Korean military to fire back 40 rounds from K-6 machine guns.
Pyongyang has repeatedly demanded the South Korean government stop the civic groups, mainly comprised of North Korean defectors, from dispatching balloons over the border.
Following a surprise visit by a high-level North Korean delegation led by Vice Marshal Hwang to attend the closing ceremony of the Incheon Asian Games on Oct. 4, the two Koreas agreed to resume high-level talks this year, leading to a warming in bilateral relations.
But Pyongyang in state media over the weekend has threatened to cancel the talks in response to the release of the anti-North leaflets, claiming Seoul and Washington are behind them.
“From now on, the progress of North-South relations completely depends on South Korea’s attitude,” said an article printed in the North’s official Rodong Sinmun yesterday.
Friday’s firing was North Korea’s first military action against the balloons, although it has repeatedly threatened to retaliate.
The government will also put into place military measures to respond to another instance of North Korean shelling or firing at the South, the government official added.
Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung told reporters on Saturday, “I think if possible it’s best not to engage in acts that will provoke North Korea.”
He added, “We will be the ones negatively impacted if we provoke North Korea and talks don’t happen.”
In regards to the exchange of fire on Friday, Kim said, “I once again thought that North Korea is a country that is very hard to know and difficult to predict.”
The ruling Saenuri Party yesterday, however, said that it is not the government’s place to intervene in civilian activities.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]