By HYUNG-JIN KIM – Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — An activist said he once again flew huge balloons carrying COVID-19 relief items and an anti-North Korea placard across the tense inter-Korean border, despite the North’s recent warning of a deadly attack on its business.
Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector turned activist, said the 20 balloons launched Sunday from a South Korean border town carried 20,000 masks and tens of thousands of Tylenol and vitamin C tablets.
He said one of the balloons carried a sign with a message that read “Let’s eradicate Kim Jong Un and (his sister) Kim Yo Jong,” along with their photos. He said no other propaganda statements were carried by the balloons.
For years, Park floated helium-filled balloons with numerous small anti-Pyongyang leaflets harshly criticizing the authoritarian Kim family rule in North Korea. But it recently replaced its cargo with masks and other health products amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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North Korea is deeply angered by such activism and, in response to Park’s cargo change, made the highly questionable claim that such items caused the country’s COVID-19 outbreak. Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the country’s leader, said last month that North Korea would respond by “wiping out the South Korean authorities” if “waste” continued to be transported from South Korea.
Days after Kim Yo Jong’s warning, a man wielding a steel pipe attacked Park at a rally in Seoul, breaking the activist’s arm.
Police said the attacker had been arrested but did not immediately provide further details. Park said he believed North Korea ordered pro-Pyongyang forces in South Korea to attack his group, a claim that cannot be independently confirmed.
In a failed assassination attempt in 2011, South Korean authorities captured a North Korean agent attempting to kill Park with a pen fitted with a poisoned needle.
North Korea is extremely sensitive to leaflet campaigns and other outside attempts to criticize the Kim family’s authoritarian regime on its people, most of whom have little access to foreign information. In 2014 North Korea fired on balloons flying towards its territory and in 2020 it destroyed an empty liaison office built by South Korea in the North to express its anger over the leaflets.
Last year, South Korea, under its previous liberal government which sought to improve relations with the North, implemented a controversial new law criminalizing such civilian leafleting campaigns. He was given a suspended fine of 3 million won ($2,190) for previous balloon flights.
After Park sent balloons carrying medicine across the border in July, police said they were investigating Park’s activities. Park said he was not contacted by police about the launch.
Police were not immediately available to comment on Park’s new floating balloon.
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