Korean activists have postponed for a few days at least a planned launch of balloons carrying DVDs of the movie The Interview into North Korea. Pyongyang recently threatened to shoot down the balloons and advised South Koreans living near the border to evacuate for their own safety.
The activists are backing down for the moment on plans to launch balloons carrying copies of the controversial comedy movie The Interview - about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un - and some 500,000 propaganda leaflets across the border.
Park Sang-hak, the head of the Fighters for Free North Korea group that organizes the balloon launches, told VOA the decision to postpone was made in reaction to Pyongyang’s threat to use its frontline military units to shoot down the balloons.
He said North Korea’s threat, that the launch of leaflets would be seen as an act of war and a declaration of war, made him decide not to send leaflets.
But Park said this postponement is contingent upon North Korea apologizing for its role in sinking the South Korean warship Cheonan and killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the torpedo attack that occurred five years ago this week.
Park said there is a possibility that North Korea may apologize, as it will be the fifth anniversary. So they will wait for North Korea’s apology, he said, and if Pyongyang apologizes, then they will not send leaflets.
The postponement and demand for an apology seem unlikely to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has called these leaflet campaigns “acts of war” and demanded that they be stopped before any inter-Korean cooperation talks can resume.
Last October there was a brief exchange of heavy machine-gun fire across the border during a balloon launching by the activists.
Some South Korean residents living near the border have expressed concern that the balloon launches could prompt North Korea to attack their towns and villages.
Seoul said it will respond if attacked over the balloon launches. But Lim Byung-chul, the Unification Ministry spokesman, added the government will not restrain the anti-Pyongyang activists.
He said that the leaflet launches by private groups falls under freedom of expression, which is a basic right, so it cannot be forcibly regulated and depends on the decision of the private parties.
The Unification Ministry spokesman did say, however, that if the launch poses a danger to people living in the border area, the government would intercede in a measured way.
Last year the U.S. accused North Korea of a cyberattack on a U.S. movie studio to prevent the release of The Interview, and in response imposed new sanctions on the Kim Jong Un government. Pyongyang denied any involvement in the attack and called the movie an act of war.
VOA Seoul Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.