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N. Korea Critics Clash with Peace Groups in South Over Leaflets 


Private groups attempting to launch leaflets into North Korean territory got into physical scuffles near the inter-Korean border with groups supportive of North-South reconciliation, Tuesday. North Korea has cited the leaflets as a reason for worsening North-South relations. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

It has become a familiar sight lately in South Korean media: members of a private South Korean coalition inflating giant balloons and using them to launch leaflets into the North. On several previous occasions, they have launched thousands of the leaflets, blaming North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for his country's impoverishment and suffering.

However, Tuesday's attempted launch in the South Korean town, Imjingak - near the heavily armed North-South border - was not nearly as successful.

This time, groups that support engagement with North Korea faced off with the North Korea critics.

About 30 members of a pro-North Korea group interfered with the launch. Minor clashes erupted and about 35 police officers were mobilized to keep the two sides apart.

Jeong Dae-yeon, a member of the pro-North group, calls the balloon launchers "reckless."

He says North and South Korean relations have just stepped onto a path of reconciliation and cooperation, after so many years of antagonism. He says he and his group cannot let the balloon launchers reverse that trend.

North and South Korea ties did warm, following a 2000 summit, ushering in an era of massive South Korean aid and investment with few, if any, strings attached. However, the so-called engagement policy did not prevent Pyongyang from testing a nuclear weapon, two years ago. It also produced no improvement in North Korean human rights policy or in addressing Seoul's concerns about South Korean abductees believed to remain in the North against their will.

Choi Seong-yong leads a group representing abductees' families. He says the balloon launches will proceed.

He says the balloon launchers will continue their daily work and will not make concessions.

North Korea has expressed fury at the administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office early this year promising a firmer policy toward the North. Pyongyang cites South Korea's failure to stop the leaflet launches as one reason it has sharply downsized North-South cooperative projects and border access.

Park Hee-tae, chairman of Mr. Lee's conservative Grand National Party, says he "fully understands" why the anti-Pyongyang groups are organizing the leaflet launches - which he views as legal.

Although he cites the launches as a free-speech issue, he says his party will seek a solution through dialogue with the groups sending the leaflets.

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