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Activists to Continue Launching Balloons into North Korea


Activists in South Korea are working to bring news and information to North Koreans. Recently, a group of activists launched balloons full of leaflets into North Korean airspace. The pieces of paper carried messages and other information.

After the balloon launch, North and South Korean troops exchanged gunfire along the border. In addition, North Korean officials threatened to cancel talks aimed at improving relations between the two sides.

VOA recently spoke with the leader of one of the activist groups. He says he and the others will continue with their efforts to bring news from the outside world into North Korea.

Lee Min-bok is a North Korean who sought asylum in South Korea. Mr. Lee leads a group called the Campaign for Helping North Korea in a Direct Way. It uses balloons to send printed leaflets, CDs and even little radios to North Korea. The activists say they want to give North Koreans the chance to receive news and information without restrictions from the government.

Mr. Lee says the balloon launch is “a primitive humanitarian activity for human rights which opens the eyes, ears and mouths of the North Korean people that have been closed by the North Korean regime.”

The North Korean government tightly controls the country’s news media and use of the Internet. Lee Min-bok and other activists in South Korea launch thousands of balloons into North Korea every year. Mr. Lee says the North does not know about most of the launches. But a recent launch led to a military exchange of gunfire at the border, and increased tensions between the two countries.

North Korea reacted through KRT, the state-operated television station. It threatened to answer the launches with deadly attacks and cancel high-level talks to ease military tensions.

The presenter said “if South Korea truly wants a good relationship with North Korea, it must respect us first.”

Military officials on both sides reportedly met to discuss the recent launch.

Lim Byeong-cheol is with South Korea’s Unification Ministry. He says the government does not have the power to stop balloon launches.

He says “the government has been calling on the groups to make careful and wise decisions on sending anti-North Korea leaflets due to concern for people’s safety.”

Lee Min-bok says he understands the risks and concerns, but he does not plan to stop.

He says “I don’t do this for political reasons. This activity is justified in the spirit of the constitution. But the activity must be done more quietly.”

Mr. Lee says he does not think the balloon launches will incite a military conflict between the North and South. He says that when the winds permit them to launch more balloons, the activists will do so.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by VOA Correspondent Brian Padden and VOA News Producer Youmi Kim. They reported from Seoul. Christopher Cruise wrote, narrated and produced this story for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.

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Words from this Story

exchange – v. to direct (words, looks, gunfire) at each other

relations – n. the way in which two or more people, groups, countries talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other

threatened – adj. to say that you will harm someone or do something unpleasant or unwanted especially in order to make someone do what you want

asylum – n. protection given by a government to someone who has left another country in order to escape being harmed

controls – v. to set or adjust the amount, degree, or rate of (something)

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