No time for balloons

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No time for balloons

A propaganda leaflet campaign by anti-North Korea activists is causing friction among South Koreans. The activists went on with a plan to launch balloons filled with fliers criticizing the Pyongyang regime from border areas and clashed with residents and opposing civic groups. Residents of Paju, which is on the border, built a barricade to prevent them from entering their town. The activists were forced to turn back. But some of the group moved after nightfall, without being seen by the press, to carry on with the launch from the nearby city of Gimpo. The police were on standby to prevent physical clashes and soldiers had to prepare for possible retaliatory fire from North Korea, which threatened to respond to the leaflet campaign as a “declaration of war.”

The propaganda South Korean civilians send via balloons is just the latest source of conflict between the two Koreas as they try to painstakingly improve their relationship. North Korea earlier this month fired at the balloons which led to some shells landing on the southern side of the border, prompting Seoul to return fire from Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi. Pyongyang warned that similar acts could do harm to the inter-Korean relationship and said it wouldn’t proceed with further dialogue unless Seoul authorities contain anti-North Korean activities. The two Koreas agreed to hold a high-level meeting in late October or early November on Oct. 4 when senior North Korean officials visited the country to attend the closing ceremony of the Incheon Asian Games. Seoul proposed to hold the discussions later this week, but Pyongyang has not responded and instead said the talks will take place as agreed if it stops civilian groups from sending fliers critical of the Pyongyang leadership.

Seoul has been asking conservative groups to refrain from such activities as it restores the high-level dialogue channel for the first time since the deadly attack against the Cheonan naval ship in 2010. Human rights conditions in North Korea will only improve when the inter-Korean relationship improves. The civic groups must look at the bigger picture before they resort to acts that can jeopardize the inter-Korean relationship. They also should consider the people living near the border. Residents live in fear of military actions from North Korea every time balloons are launched. Why else would they build a barricade? For the time being, it is best that activists exercise self-restraint for the common good. The government has been sitting on the sidelines. It should try to persuade the groups to do the best thing for everyone.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 27, Page 30

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