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Gov't expected to revoke operation permits for 2 defector groups this week over leafleting: sources

All News 09:54 July 14, 2020

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry is expected to revoke the operation permits of two North Korean defector groups as early as this week over their sending of anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets, sources said Tuesday.

The move comes about a month after North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong in anger over leaflets criticizing leader Kim Jong-un, saying such leafleting violates a series of peace agreements between the two sides.

In response, South Korea's unification ministry pledged to crack down on leafleting, filed a criminal complaint against two defectors groups -- Fighters for a Free North Korea and Kuensaem -- and took steps to revoke their operation permits.

Late last month, the ministry held a closed-door hearing to give the groups one last chance to explain themselves before going ahead with the revocation process. Kuensaem officials attended the hearing, but Fighters for a Free North Korea did not send its representatives.

The ministry said that it has asked Fighters for a Free North Korea to submit its final say in written form by Wednesday. It plans to revoke their operation permits after the Wednesday deadline.

"We will take action on the revocation matter by comprehensively taking into consideration all relevant situations," a ministry official said. "We will mull whether to revoke the permits on Wednesday or a couple of days later after further review."

Losing operation permits would make it hard for the groups to raise money for their operations and activities as donors would not be eligible for various tax benefits.

Sending leaflets across the border recently emerged as a major source of cross-border tensions since Pyongyang called it a violation of an inter-Korean summit agreement in 2018 and threatened to take a series of retaliatory steps against South Korea if it did stop such activity.

North Korea later called South Korea an "enemy" and blew up the joint liaison office on June 16.

The government has advised against sending such leaflets, saying that such activity violates an inter-Korean exchange and cooperation act and that it also could jeopardize the safety of residents in border areas. But they have often ignored the appeal, citing their right to freedom of expression.

Fighters for a Free North Korea and Kuensaem, consisting of North Korean defectors, are among the most active groups in sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

According to the unification ministry, Kuensaem has tried to send plastic bottles containing rice, USBs, Bibles and other materials to North Korea eight times this year. Fighters for a Free North Korea claimed to send 500,000 leaflets, SD cards and $1 bills into the North via balloons last month.

Defector activists put rice into PET bottles at a park in Seoul on June 18, 2020. They plan to drift them into North Korea via waters off the western island of Ganghwa bordering North Korea, despite the government's crackdown on their anti-Pyongyang activities, including the flying of balloons containing anti-Kim Jong-un leaflets into the North. (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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