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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 27 (October 30, 2008)

All Headlines 10:53 October 30, 2008


North Korea Intensifies Threats over Anti-Pyongyang Leaflets

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid deteriorating inter-Korean ties, North Korea has been intensifying its attacks on South Korea over the increasing cross-border spread of anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets by South Korean civic organizations. On Oct. 28, the North escalated the tone of its threat over the leaflets, saying its military will take "resolute practical action" unless Seoul stops the groups from sending leaflets.

The North's warnings came on two occasions this month during working-level military talks held at the truce village of Panmunjom, but the latest one came through a spokesman for the North's military via the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 28.

Despite the Seoul government's repeated pleas to stop, the groups of civic activists and North Korea defectors based in Seoul have continued sending balloons carrying tens of thousands of leaflets, claiming that it is their duty to open North Koreans' eyes to the truth.

The North has become increasingly tense about the propaganda pamphlets because of the delicate situation of the North Korean regime, with rumours persisting over the fragile health of leader Kim Jong-il. The North Korean leader has not been seen in public since August, but North Korean officials have vehemently denied reports of his illness.

In the latest inter-Korean military talks on Oct. 27, North Korea threatened to suspend its joint industrial project with South Korea, citing the spread of anti-North Korea leaflets. The North made the threat again during a brief meeting of working-level military officials from the divided Koreas, the second of its kind this month since inter-Korean military dialogue resumed earlier this month after an eight-month hiatus.

The next day, North Korea threatened to strike South Korea with means "more powerful than nuclear weapons" at the slightest sign of an attempt by Seoul to preemptively strike the communist nation. The threat came one day after Pyongyang accused the Seoul government of ignoring the spread of the anti-communist propaganda leaflets by South Korean civic organizations.

"We clarify our stand that should the south Korean puppet authorities continue scattering leaflets and conducting a smear campaign with sheer fabrications, our army will take a resolute practical action as we have already warned," the North's official news agency, KCNA, quoted an unidentified spokesman for the country's delegation to inter-Korean military talks as saying.

The spokesman went on to claim that South Korean officials, including Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, have officially chosen preemptive strike as their means to attack the North and warned such an attempt will be countered with a more powerful and advanced preemptive strike by North Korea. "The advanced preemptive strike of our own style is based on a preemptive strike beyond imagination relying on striking means more powerful than a nuclear weapon," he was quoted as saying.

North Korea set off a nuclear device in 2006 in its first-ever nuclear explosion test. It is believed to have some 40 kilograms of plutonium, enough to produce six to eight nuclear bombs, according to South Korean officials. Despite the bellicose rhetoric, the spokesman nonetheless urged the South Korean government to resume talks with his communist nation, saying "practical actions are more important than their lip-service."

Pyongyang cut off most of its official dialogue channels with Seoul after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated in February with a pledge to take a tougher stance against the communist North than his two liberal predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, both of whom held historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in the North Korean capital.

"If the South Korean puppet authorities keep ignoring the historic inter-Korean declarations and all the North-South agreements based on them, quite contrary to their words, the DPRK will make a crucial decision including the total severance of the North-South relations," the North Korean official said.

"The North Korean side pointed out that the spread of leaflets is on the rise and demanded that our side take immediate measures to halt their distribution (in the North)," Col. Lee Sang-cheol, head of the North Korea policy bureau at the Defense Ministry, told reporters.

Col. Lee earlier this month attended working-level dialogue with his North Korean counterpart in the first military talks between the Koreas since January, but that meeting ended in just a few hours as North Korean delegates used the venue solely to criticize Seoul for spreading propaganda leaflets slandering their leader Kim Jong-il. The Oct. 27 meeting, held on the roadside of a western route that crosses the inter-Korean border, lasted less than 20 minutes.

Pyongyang also demanded Seoul take measures to repair military hotlines between the countries that have been out of operation since May and to provide necessary equipment and materials to help modernize its communication systems, the ministry said in a released statement. "The North Korean side stressed the need to take immediate measures to repair the military communication lines between the two and demanded the South Korean side provide military communications equipment and materials," it said.

South Korea agreed late last year to help modernize the North's outdated communications systems to secure better communication channels with the communist state, but has yet to do so amid continued tension with Pyongyang, which frequently calls the South Korean president a traitor.

The two Koreas are divided by the world's most heavily fortified border, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War and one of the world's last Cold War frontiers. The countries are technically at war as the Korean War ended only with an armistice treaty, not a peace agreement.

As a result of the current environment, a coalition of South Korean companies at a joint industrial park in North Korea warned their businesses are being threatened by anti-Pyongyang activists who continue to fly leaflets into the communist state.

The Oct. 26 warning came a day before a group of families whose members were abducted by North Korea said it will release about 100,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets via balloon into the communist country. According to official figures, nearly 500 South Koreans were kidnapped by the North after the Korean War.

The statement by the business coalition is the second of its kind after a request earlier this month that the civic groups, which also represent North Korean defectors, stop floating such leaflets. "The leaflets are worsening inter-Korean relations," the coalition said in a statement, arguing the practice hurts already strained political ties and scares investors away.

The factory park is seen as one of the few symbols of rapprochement between the two states that fought the 1950-53 Korean War. More than 33,000 North Korean workers are currently earning dollars from 79 South Korean factories in the Kaesong complex, located just north of the world's most heavily armed border. "If the complex shuts down, it will further dampen the hopes of both your organizations and our nation," the statement said, describing the park as the only remaining "reconciliation channel."

The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to stop their propaganda warfare, which involved floating leaflets and using loudspeakers to tout their own regimes across the heavily armed border. The South Korean government has asked the anti-Pyongyang groups to stop the leaflet activities, but to no avail.

Choi Song-ryong, who leads the association of families of abductees, said his group will continue to press on with the act on Oct. 27. He said his leaflets will contain the names of those abducted by North Korea. Other anti-Pyongyang groups are planning similar moves at later dates.

North Korea's killing of a South Korean housewife in the country's resort mountain a few months ago added more tension to ties. South Korea immediately suspended the 10-year-old tour program to Mt. Kumgang located in the east coast of the North.

Analysts say North Korea's unprecedentedly sensitive reaction to the leaflets is something to do with its leader Kim Jong-il's heath. South Korean and U.S. intelligence have reported that Kim, 66, suffered a stroke in the middle of August and is now recovering after undergoing brain surgery. But most North Koreans are not informed about the news because Kim's health is a taboo topic in the communist state.

The leaflets also carry details about Kim's wives and the royal family and how defectors in South Korea live, as well as the historical fact that it was North Korea that ignited the Korean War, not the South as taught in the communist state, according to media reports here.

"North Korea may take the leaflets as a serious threat to the country if Kim is in no situation to show his presence by appearing in public right now," said Kim Seong-bae, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Institute for National Security Strategy.

Seoul, however, is concerned about the leaflets' effect on already worsening relations with Pyongyang, with no tangible legitimate means to stop the groups. The groups must "refrain (from the activities) in consideration of a number of inter-Korean agreements," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, said in a daily press briefing.

The two Koreas have ceased hostilities along their heavily armed border since 2004, but the groups have been sending the leaflets for years, hoping they might be helpful in expediting the collapse of the secretive regime. Seoul cannot legally punish the groups because the 2004 military agreement on ending hostilities is limited to activities happening inside the demilitarized zone, Kim said.

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