Activists in South Korea claimed victory today in their battle to launch tens of thousands of balloons carrying propaganda material to North Korea.
The activists, almost all defectors from North Korea, said they had to skirt South Korean policemen blocking them from their intended launch site and drive to a much less conspicuous site 20 miles south of the border village of Imjingak, the historical tourist area from which they had earlier planned to launch the balloons.
The activists had chosen Imjingak, which includes a Buddhist shrine, a peace bell, and memorials to those who died in the Korean War, because it is a highly visible site where they could obtain maximum publicity. Local residents objected, however, after North Korea promised “merciless strikes” on the area, several miles south of the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.
The alternative site was on Ganghwa Island, at the mouth of the Han River about 30 miles northwest of Seoul. North Korea’s barren countryside is clearly visible on the other side.
The activists said they avoided policemen in their quest for a new launch site, but left the impression that authorities wanted to let them launch their balloons after having put on an appearance of frustrating their first plan. If the police had really wanted to stop them, one analyst noted anonymously, they would have followed them closely and set up new roadblocks.
There were no signs today of any North Korean effort to fire on the site from which balloons laden with about 120,000 leaflets on human rights abuses and dynastic rule under new leader Kim Jong-un were launched. The balloons, wafted northward on wind currents, also dropped off assorted other items – including dollar bills, candy bars, and socks.
Free North Korea Radio, one of several short-wave stations operated by activists that broadcasts from here into North Korea, carried several news stories announcing and then justifying the launch.
“We are keeping our promise to the public,” said a statement on the station’s website. “For the love of our brothers and sisters in North Korea, we cannot postpone this launch.”