South Korea to ban floating 'propaganda' balloons over Northern border

Julian Ryall
Kim Yo-jong has taken a more public role in North Korea in recent months - AP

South Korea is drawing up legislation that will make it illegal for human rights groups and defectors to float 'propaganda' balloons over the border into North Korea.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced Thursday that it will ban the release of balloons carrying propaganda messages into the North, just hours after Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un, issued a statement condemning Seoul for permitting the releases to go ahead unchecked.

Activists released 500,000 balloons earlier this week, each carrying propaganda leaflets, South Korean television programmes and news shows on memory sticks, dollar bills and small amounts of rice or snacks that are not available in the North.

Many of the propaganda leaflets highlighted that Kim Jong-un had threatened to carry out “shocking action with a new strategic nuclear weapon”.

Kim Yo-jong, who is becoming increasingly powerful in the regime, on Thursday morning threatened that unless South Korea halts the balloon releases, Pyongyang will walk away from a 2018 agreement designed to reduce military tensions on the border.

She also declared that there would be no further efforts to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Park, once a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, that the North-South joint liaison office on the border would be closed and there would be no progress on reopening the Mount Kumgang tourism zone to visitors from the South.

“The South Korean authorities will be forced to pay a dear price if they let this situation go on while making excuses”, Ms Kim said in the statement, carried by state-run media.

She added that defectors sending the propaganda into the North were “human scum” and “rubbish-like mongrel dogs”, Yonhap news agency reported.

The Unification Ministry confirmed that it would comply with the North’s demands a few hours later.

“Taking into consideration the relevant circumstances, the government has already been considering effective regulatory measures to fundamentally prevent acts that cause tension near the border”, a spokesman said.

“We are furious with this decision - but it is what we have come to expect from a government that acts like a servant to the regime in Pyongyang”, said Song Young-chae, a member of the Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea.

“This government is painfully pro-Pyongyang and if we cannot send balloons into the North carrying money and food, then people there will die of hunger”, he said.

“If the government insists on making it illegal to send food and money into the North, then it must find another way to tell the people there of life beyond their borders and the reality of their government”, he said. “But they won’t, so more people there will die”.