By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press Writer
YEONGJONG ISLAND, South Korea – The North Korean trembled when he spotted the leaflet that had fluttered down from a balloon dispatched from the South. He snatched it, stuffed it into his pocket and ran to the bathroom to read it.
Park Sang-hak says he read that slip of vinyl — which bragged about the
An unidentified North Korean defector prepares to launch a huge helium balloon containing some leaflets, seen at bottom of balloon, condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, during an anti-North Korea campaign in water near Yeongjong Island, South Korea. Friday, Oct. 10, 2008. The group of North Korean defectors sent airborne leaflets to their former communist homeland on Saturday, a move expected to further anger North Korea amid lingering tensions on the divided Peninsula.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Fifteen years later, Park is on the other side of the border. He defected to South Korea in 1999 and now helps launch propaganda balloons filled with leaflets denouncing the Stalinist regime.
The 40-foot balloons — fueled by hydrogen and shaped like missiles — are the most direct way to reach people living in one of the world’s most isolated nations. Few North Koreans have access to cell phones or the Internet, and millions have no way of getting in contact with relatives living in South Korea.
For decades, the rival Koreas waged a fierce ideological battle using leaflets, loudspeakers and radio broadcasts across the heavily fortified border. At the height of the propoganda war, South Korea’s military loudspeakers blared propaganda 20 hours a day, according to an official from the psychological unit of the South Korean army. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was not authorized to speak to media.
But then the two Koreas embarked on a path to reconciliation that led to the first landmark summit between their leaders in 2000. They agreed in 2004 to end the propaganda.
Still, activists and defectors continue to send balloons filled with leaflets across the border, despite pleas from Seoul to stop at a time when inter-Korean relations are at their lowest point in years. The activists hope to spark a rebellion to overthrow .
Last week, the North threatened to expel South Koreans working at two joint projects north of the border and warned of “new military clashes” if leaflets criticizing Kim — an illegal offense in— continue.