After threat, leaflet campaign suspended

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After threat, leaflet campaign suspended

A defector-turned-activist said Monday he will halt his campaign of sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda via balloons over the demilitarized zone into North Korea after it caused escalating military tension at the inter-Korean border.

“I can see the North’s fear of the leaflets,” said Park Sang-hak, founder of the rights group Fighters for a Free North Korea. “We won’t send the leaflets for some time.”

Earlier this month, the group said it would send leaflets carrying messages critical of the Kim Jong-un regime and 5,000 DVDs of the Hollywood comedy “The Interview,” which depicted an assassination of the young ruler, over the border by balloons sometime around Thursday. Thursday is the fifth anniversary of the North’s sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, although Pyongyang has denied responsibility.

Park demanded Monday that the North apologize for sinking the Cheonan, and if it doesn’t, his group will eventually dispatch the leaflets and DVDs.

Tension between the two Koreas’ militaries reached a new peak over the weekend as a result of Park’s plan. On Sunday, the North threatened to use “all the firepower means” to destroy the balloons. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency released a warning from frontline units of its military.

The North said the civic group was deliberately escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula, “where the situation has reached the brink of war.” Any countermeasures by the South would “entail double and triple merciless retaliatory strikes.”

It also warned South Korean residents near the border to evacuate the area. In October, the two Koreas exchanged gunfire after the North opened fire at the balloons, but no casualties were reported in the South.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea said that any provocation by the North would be responded to with force.

“If the North uses the civic group’s leaflet-sending as an excuse and makes any provocative action south of the Military Demarcation Line, our military will powerfully and sternly counter it,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday. “A civic group’s leaflet-sending is part of the people’s rights and freedom of speech. We cannot regulate this forcibly and we want to say once again that the civilians are making their independent judgments.”

The Ministry of Unification said Monday that the government will deal with any provocation by the North “strongly and resolutely,” and that it has no intention to block the civic group’s campaign.

A local court ruled in January that the government has the right to control the activists to protect border residents’ safety, but the conservative Park Geun-hye administration has not used the ruling as grounds to crack down.

The leader of the main opposition party, Moon Jae-in, demanded Monday that the Park government stop the activists unless it wants to provoke the North and use the situation to its benefit in the elections.

“The government is bringing about disorder to the country by not controlling a handful of people over their sending of leaflets to North Korea,” Moon, chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said during a party’s leadership meeting. “Unless it wants something to happen and use it for its benefit in the elections, it must strongly control the activists.”

Moon also strongly condemned the North for its latest warning. “That is just going too far,” Moon said. “That is a reckless response that will harm the lives of the residents living near the inter-Korean border and prompt a military clash.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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