A group of North Korean human rights campaigners has defied a request
of the South Korean government and launched thousands of balloon-borne
leaflets into North Korea. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
About a dozen people belonging to the South Korea-based "North Korea Freedom Coalition" took to the seas on Friday, carrying a cargo of thousands of leaflets - each one printed on tissue-thin plastic material resembling convenience store shopping bags.
The leaflets describe North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a "devilish killer who views his people only as slaves." They say Kim Jong Il is the sole reason for North Korea's hunger and poverty.
When their boat reached a point about eight kilometers west of the South Korean city of Incheon, coalition members filled giant 12 meter long balloons with helium. Then they attached bundles of leaflets to the balloons, and let the ocean wind whisk them away, off in the direction of North Korea. By the end of the day some hundred thousand leaflets were airborne.
Park Sang-hak is the president of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. Like the group's members, he is a North Korean defector who left his country to escape severe deprivation and political repression. He says operations like this are designed to give hope to those still living under North Korea's authoritarian rule.
Park says the group aimed the balloons at North Korea's Hwanghae province. He says the weather is much better than the group expected, and that the results look good.
Balloon launches like this have gotten North Korea's attention. At inter-Korean military talks earlier this month, the North complained specifically about leaflets carried by balloon, and asked Seoul to put a stop to the launches.
South Korea's Unification Ministry followed up by requesting the defectors group stop the leaflet operations - but Park says he had no intention of complying.
He says only dictatorships order people what to do. South Korea, he says, is a democratic nation - and the government here cannot order legitimate human rights groups around.
Improving North Korean human rights is a stated priority of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's administration. South Korean naval vessels kept watch during Friday's launch, but did not intervene. Previous administrations sought to avoid angering Pyongyang on matters of human rights, and might have done more to discourage such balloon launches.
About 14,000 North Koreans now live in the South. Another 100,000 are estimated to be living illegally in China, hoping to make it here via a third country. Park says groups like his will keep up their work until all Koreans live in freedom.