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S. Korea Will Not Ban Anti-North Leaflet Launches

FILE - North Korean defectors prepare to release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Oct. 10, 2014.

South Korea says it will not take steps to ban groups from launching anti-Pyongyang leaflets near the heavily armed border with North Korea.

The government in Seoul Tuesday told VOA's Korean service that there is no legal basis to regulate the scattering by private organizations because it is a matter of freedom of expression.

However, an official said the Unification Ministry has asked groups to consider their actions carefully because the leaflet launches could put people at risk. The official, who did not want to be named, added that Seoul is closely watching Pyongyang's reaction to the latest launch.

An anti-Pyongyang group composed mostly of North Korean defectors sent 1.3 million leaflets across the border by balloon on Monday. Another defector group has said it plans to send the North some DVDs of the controversial movie "The Interview" this month.

The Monday leaflet launch was the first this year.

Last October, North Korea responded with machine-gun fire in the direction of the activists, but no one was injured. In addition to the gunfire, North Korea reacted by refusing an offer of high-level contacts with South Korea.

Analysts in Seoul see the leaflet issue as a litmus test for North Korea’s willingness to hold dialogue with the South.

The ministry official called on North Korea to accept its offer of talks, saying the leaflet issue can be discussed in that forum. The official said that once trust is built between North and South Korea, the misunderstanding that Seoul protects the leaflet activity can be cleared up.

The Korean peninsula has been separated for more than half a century since the Korean War, which ended with an armistice in 1953.

Jayden Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.