March 28, 2011 13:49
Around 100 activists attempted to float propaganda leaflets to North Korea from a hill in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, but locals stopped them by blocking the access roads. The activists wanted to send off some 6 million propaganda leaflets attached to balloons, but the villagers fear reprisal attacks from North Korea that could threaten their livelihood.
Earlier in the week, people in Ceorwon blocked another activist group from sending propaganda leaflets to the North. And village chiefs in the Paju area near the Demilitarized Zone in a joint statement demanded civic groups stop sending propaganda flyers from Imjingak, a park overlooking the DMZ that saw visitor numbers plunge after the North threatened to fire aimed shots at the launch sites.
North Korea has always vowed to retaliate when South Korea mentioned psychological warfare, but the threat of artillery fire upped the stakes, and no assurances will calm the fears of people who witnessed North Korea's brutal and sudden shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year. In areas along the border, people do not treat North Korea's threat as a bluff, and any attempt to pursue psychological warfare against the North while these fears persist will cause friction among South Koreans.
At home, the North Korean regime is meanwhile cracking down on people who collect the propaganda leaflets. That it is reacting so sensitively to South Korean propaganda shows how afraid it is that the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East could set up a spark in the North.
The South Koreans who are blocking the launch of balloons are probably aware how effective their cargo can be in helping North Koreans learn about the outside world and empowering them. But their fears are legitimate too. Groups supporting human rights in North Korea just need to find new ways of pursuing their mission. They have taken the first step by abandoning the publicity circus that has surrounded each launch with press releases and videos telling the whole world about it, and opting instead for a low-key approach.
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