A group of North Korean defectors launched 20 large helium balloons carrying 500,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets from South Korea across the border to the North on Monday night.
The group released the leaflets amid heightened diplomatic tensions between the North and South over the established practice, according to a report by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. South Korean police have been monitoring activity along the inter-Korean border “around-the-clock” specifically to block any activists and defectors in the South from sending leaflets to the North. So far, the South Korean government has filed a criminal complaint against two North Korean defector groups engaged in so-called “leafleting.”
“[We] sent anti-North Korea leaflets over [to the North] between 11 p.m. and midnight on Monday [from] Paju [a western border city],” Park Sang-hak, leader of the group Fighters for a Free North Korea, said. The activist added that they selected a “very dark location” to launch the balloons in order to “avoid police surveillance.”
At least one of the balloons was found about 60 miles southeast of Paju on Tuesday morning in the South Korean county of Hongcheon, according to police.
“We went to the scene upon receiving a call from a resident that a plastic ballon [sic] presumed to be in use for anti-North Korean leafleting was hanging from a tree,” a police officer told Yonhap. “We understand the balloon was floated by a defector group last night.”
Photos of the balloon published by Yonhap show it displayed images of North Korea’s ruling dictator Kim Jong-un and his younger sister Yo-jong. The balloons carried packages containing the leaflets — which reportedly depicted South Korea’s democratic “success story” — 2,000 American one-dollar bills, and 1,000 SD memory cards, according to the report.
Earlier on Monday, Pyongyang threatened to send 12 million of its own anti-South Korea leaflets to the South in retaliation against Seoul’s “failure” to stop the anti-North leaflet campaigns, which it cites as a major reason behind its increasingly hostile relations with South Korea.
On June 16, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong, just north of the heavily militarized South Korean border. Pyongyang confirmed it had ordered the detonation of the empty building as a direct response to the incessant leafleting by North Korean defectors in the South.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which promotes peaceful relations between North and South as part of its overall goal for reunification, has recently called for activists to halt the leaflet campaigns, according to Yonhap.
“Leaflets, whether from the North or the South, do no good for inter-Korean relations, and the two leaders agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration to stop the leafleting,” a ministry official said, referring to a 2018 agreement between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
“From this point of view, the government believes that the unproductive distribution of leaflets must be immediately halted to improve inter-Korean relations and promote peace on the Korean peninsula,” the official said.
The South Korean government has been working to officially prohibit leafleting by pushing legislation to ban the practice.
On June 8, South Korean riot police were called to quell “shouting and shoving matches” that erupted in a border village after local residents tried to stop anti-Pyongyang activists from sending care packages to North Korea, which they intended to launch via the Yellow Sea. The locals feared retaliation from the North if the packages were sent.