Tensions — and balloons — rise in South Korea
Park Sang Hak, a North Korean defector, launches balloons bound for his homeland. They carry bags of leaflets accusing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il of being a drinker of pricey wine, a seducer of other men's wives, a murderer, a slaveholder, a dictator and "the devil."
The Washington Post
PAJU, South Korea — Park Sang Hak, a North Korean defector, launches balloons bound for his homeland. They carry bags of leaflets accusing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il of being a drinker of pricey wine, a seducer of other men's wives, a murderer, a slaveholder, a dictator and "the devil."
The South Korean government says it wishes Park wouldn't rain all this aggravation on a heavily armed neighbor, but it says it is powerless to stop him. So about the only thing that usually stops Park's balloons is a wind that won't blow north.
But on Tuesday morning here at Paju, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, Park and his compatriots ran into a bunch of South Korean activists willing to fight to keep the balloons on the ground. Park's anti-Kim leaflets, they shouted, were a threat to peace on the Korean peninsula.
A balloon-driven rumble broke out. Scores of police struggled to keep it from turning into a full-blown riot. Before it was over, Park pulled a tear-gas revolver from his jacket, and fired it into the air before police grabbed it away from him.
In the end, Park's group managed to launch just one of their 10 balloons. Leaflets dropped this fall in the North have infuriated the government there, which is believed to be particularly sensitive to personal attacks aimed at Kim, owing to the stroke he reportedly suffered in August and the subsequent firestorm of speculation about his mental and physical competence.
The leaflets have been an aggravating factor in the North's unusually belligerent behavior this fall toward South Korea's government. Effective this week, the North drastically cut access for South Koreans working just north of the border at the Kaesong industrial complex, opened several years ago with great hopes that it would open the door to reconciliation on the divided peninsula.
Leaflets falling from the sky have added fuel to a fire that began to burn early this year when a new South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, came into office, pledging to reverse a 10-year-old policy of giving substantial and largely unconditional aid to the North.
Lee halted cross-border economic projects — which had been negotiated with Kim by Lee's predecessors — until the North makes progress on nuclear disarmament and human rights.
Among supporters of the two South Korean presidents who preceded Lee — Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun — there is widespread anxiety that a decade of political and economic cooperation between the two Koreas is being jeopardized.
Protesters here chanted that Lee's government should stop the balloons, honor the South's previous commitments to invest in the North and save the Kaesong complex. One person with no interest in calming roiling waters between the two Koreas is Park, who defected with his mother and two brothers in 1999, leaving behind his fiancee and two uncles.
"My uncles were beaten to death in prison," Park said. "North Korean intelligence people visited the woman I was engaged to. They sexually abused her. I regret leaving her behind so much."
Park, chairman of the Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea, learned that the South Korean Defense Ministry had used balloons to deliver propaganda in the North — a practice that ended after a conciliatory North-South summit in 2000.
The long, tube-shaped balloons that Park launches are handmade from sheets of vinyl used in the construction of greenhouses and inflated, at the border, with hydrogen. Park says he has sent nearly 2 million anti-Kim leaflets north by balloon. Since April, he said, each of the waterproof leaflets borne by his balloons is attached to a U.S. dollar bill. Funding for his ballooning comes from individuals in South Korea and the United States, he said.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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