Pyongyang gives Seoul scolding on leaflets

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Pyongyang gives Seoul scolding on leaflets

The two Koreas started yet another quarrel over anti-Kim Jong-un propaganda leaflets sent by activists from the South, casting a cloud over recent efforts by Seoul and Pyongyang to resume talks and improve relations.

A group of North Korean defectors led by defector Lee Min-bok dispatched two balloons carrying 600,000 leaflets condemning the Kim regime across the border from northern Gyeonggi on Monday.

North Korea blamed the Park Geun-hye administration Wednesday. “The South Korean government gave tacit approval to the latest leaflet sending, revealing that they are all in one group,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary. “Improving inter-Korean relations cannot be realized by one side’s unilateral efforts.”

Pyongyang urged the Park administration to make clear its position on the leaflets. The South Korean government must decide whether to push inter-Korean relations into an abyss by ignoring the activists or show genuine efforts for talks, the North said.

The North also pointed out that the two Koreas had agreed to hold high-level talks after its high-profile delegation visited the South in October, but the reconciliatory mood was ruined because of the propaganda leaflet campaign.

Pyongyang’s latest complaint came as a local court issued a ruling Tuesday that the police acted lawfully to stop an activist from sending leaflets. It was the first time that a court ruled in favor of state intervention against sending the propaganda leaflets.

The Uijeongbu District Court ruled against Lee Min-bok, a 58-year-old defector. After the police stopped him from send leaflets via balloons from Cheolwon, Gangwon, in October last year, Lee sued and demanded 50 million won ($45,400) from the government for psychological damage.

Judge Kim Ju-wan said the police had acted lawfully.

“By sending leaflets to the North, South Korean people’s lives will face a clear and present danger,” the judge Kim. “The police can stop him to prevent the danger.”

Kim noted that the North had fired guns at the balloons last Oct. 10 when leaflets were sent from northern Gyeonggi.

Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said Wednesday that the government’s stance remains unchanged and it cannot restrict freedom of expression of its citizens.

“When activists announced the plans, the police took necessary measures in the past to protect our people’s lives and properties, although the freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution,” Lim said. “In the future, the same measures will be taken by the police.”

Lim said the necessary safeguards do not necessarily mean that the government will physically block the activists.

Lim suggested the North sit down for talks to discuss a wide range of issues including the leaflets.

“It is wrong for the North to demand that the South restrict our freedom of expression as a precondition for talks,” Lim said. “The North must come to talks without preconditions.”

The Park administration is in a delicate predicament as it makes efforts to resume inter-Korean talks.

On Tuesday, Park urged North Korea to agree to a dialogue soon.

The Park government also said it would allow private aid groups to provide fertilizer to the North as long as the amount remains small. “Two organizations filed applications to send fertilizer aid,” a Unification Ministry official said Tuesday. “We will review them positively as long as transparency is promised.”

Since 2007, the South allowed no fertilizer aid to the North. The South Korean government provided up to 350,000 tons of fertilizers annually to the North from 2000 to help with the country’s food shortages.

Economic sanctions imposed in May 2010 also banned the sending of fertilizer to the North because it could be used to produce missile fuel.

The main liberal opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy urged the Park administration to stop the activists from sending their leaflets and damaging relations with North Korea.

“Only the government is insisting it cannot stop the activists,” said Rep. Won Hye-young, a member of the emergency leadership of the party. “That makes us question if the government has the genuine will to resume inter-Korean talks.”

Won pointed to a resolution adopted at the National Assembly’s Foreign Committee on Tuesday. The resolution urged the government to take necessary measures to protect the South Korean people’s safety and inter-Korean relations from the North’s threats triggered by the leaflets.

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


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