Activist floats balloons again despite North Korea’s warning

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An activist said he has once again flown huge balloons carrying Covid-19 relief items and an anti-North Korea placard across the inter-Korean border, despite the North’s recent warning of a deadly attack over his activities.

Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, said the 20 balloons launched 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 placard with a message that reads “Let’s eradicate Kim Jong Un and (his sister) Kim Yo Jong”, along with their photos.

The activist said no other propaganda statements were carried by the balloons.

For years, Mr Park has floated helium-filled balloons with numerous, small anti-Pyongyang leaflets with harsh criticism of the Kim family’s authoritarian rule in North Korea.

But he has recently changed his cargo to masks and other health products amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

North Korean officials have been angered by such activism and in response to Mr Park’s changed cargo has made the highly questionable claim that such objects 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 “rubbish” continued to be flown from South Korea.

Days after Kim Yo Jong’s warning, a man wielding a steel pipe attacked Mr Park at a rally in Seoul, breaking the activist’s arm.

Police said the attacker was detained.

Mr Park said he believes North Korea has 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 who tried to kill Mr Park with a pen equipped with a poison needle.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to leafleting campaigns and other outside attempts to criticise the Kim family’s authoritarian rule of its people, most of whom have little access to foreign news.

In 2014, North Korea fired at balloons flying toward its territory, and in 2020 it destroyed an empty South Korean-built liaison office in the North to express its anger over leafleting.

Last year, South Korea, under its previous liberal government that sought to improve ties with the North, enforced a contentious new law criminalising such civilian leafleting campaigns. Mr Park was handed a suspended fine of three million won (£1,900) over previous balloon flights.

After Mr Park sent balloons carrying medicine across the border in July, police said they were investigating his activities. Mr Park said he was not contacted by police over the launch.

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