SEOUL, South Korea » South Korean activists vowed Wednesday to bombard North Korea with propaganda material that includes footage of Middle East protests and urges rebellion despite Pyongyang’s threats to open fire in retaliation.
Friction between the Koreas is already high following Monday’s start of annual South Korean-U.S. military drills, which North Korea has called a rehearsal for invasion that could trigger a nuclear war. The North’s military has also warned that it would attack South Korean border towns if Seoul allows activists to send balloons carrying leaflets critical of Pyongyang.
North Korea, which closely controls the flow of information within its borders, considers the leaflets an attack on its government and regularly lashes out against the South for permitting activists to launch them.
On Wednesday, the Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea said it will send about 200,000 propaganda leaflets, 1-dollar bills and USB flash drives carrying videos on the recent wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries as early as Monday.
"We won’t yield to the North’s threat and blackmailing," Park Sang-hak, the head of the group, told The Associated Press by telephone.
Most ordinary North Koreans don’t have personal computers at their homes, but Park said they could still use school and office computers to secretly watch the videos.
He said the leaflets will urge North Koreans to rebel against their leaders and show news about North Korean human rights violations.
Park, who defected to South Korea in early 2000, said his group has sent about 3 million propaganda leaflets toward North Korea every year since 2004. "Our defectors’ mission is to let the parents, brothers and friends we left behind in North Korea know the truth" about Kim Jong Il’s authoritarian rule, he said.
Park said wind direction and other weather conditions would be the only things that could change his plans.
South Korea says it cannot prevent the propaganda from being sent, citing freedom of speech protections.
A small group of anti-war activists, meanwhile, rallied Wednesday in Seoul against the propaganda launches and the U.S.-South Korean military drills.
The two Koreas — still technically in a state of war — agreed in 2004 to end decades of propaganda warfare across their heavily fortified border. But the North’s alleged torpedoing of a South Korean warship and its artillery attack on a South Korean island last year led Seoul to resume propaganda radio broadcasts. Seoul also allowed a church to light a giant steel Christmas tree near the border that Pyongyang condemned as a psychological provocation.
South Korea’s military has also floated balloons carrying about 3 million leaflets containing news about Egyptian and Libyan protests as well as daily necessities like soap, underwear, medicine and radios toward the North since the island bombardment in November, South Korean lawmaker Song Young-sun said last week, citing a private briefing by Defense Ministry officials. Defense Ministry and military officials said they couldn’t confirm Song’s claim.
After weeks of exchanging threats late last year, North Korea welcomed the New Year with calls for dialogue with Seoul and an expressed willingness to return to stalled international talks on its nuclear program. However, military talks last month failed to make progress.
Also Wednesday, Robert Einhorn, a U.S. special adviser for nonproliferation, told reporters in Seoul that the United States and South Korea are seeking a U.N. statement condemning North Korea’s recently disclosed uranium enrichment program, which could give Pyongyang a second way to make atomic bombs.