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S. Korean Group Agrees to Halt Leaflet Launches to North

The private group mainly responsible for launching anti-Kim Jong Il leaflets by balloon into North Korea says it will stop the launches for now. The move comes following a request by South Korea's ruling conservative party amid worsening North-South relations.

Friday's agreement to suspend, for now, the launch of balloon-borne leaflets into North Korea came after a meeting between an increasingly well-known human rights advocate and the chairman of South Korea's ruling conservative Grand National Party, Park Hee-tae.

Park says he asked the group to stop the launches, in the interest of the common good.

North Korea has cited the leaflet launches as a key reason for worsening North-South relations, culminating this week in sharp restrictions on inter-Korean border crossings.

Park Sang-hak, who heads a group of North Korean defectors to the South, has been a key coordinator of the leaflet launches. He has sent thousands of them into the North's territory in recent weeks. They are printed on light, aerodynamic plastic, harshly criticize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and urge North Korean citizens to rise up against him during his apparent recovery from a stroke.

Park the defector offered Park the political party chairman an apology Monday for causing a diplomatic incident. He says his group never intended for the leaflet launches to damage the North-South relationship.

Park still defends what he describes as North Koreans' right to know the truth about their political system.

He says he is not stopping the leaflet operations because of any threats from Kim Jong-il, but only because of the South Korean government request. He adds, the suspension is not forever, but only for a certain time.

A joint North-South cooperative industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong has seen sharp cutbacks amidst the chill in relations between the two countries. Yoo Chang-geun is the director of the South's Gaesong Industrial Council. He says solving the leaflet issue alone will not secure Kaesong's future.

He says the leaflets were only a trigger for what remains a lack of communication between the two Koreas. He recommends South Korea send United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon- who is a South Korean -or former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung as an envoy to the North to mediate.