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(LEAD) Activists spread anti-N. Korea leaflets over border

2015/01/20 14:33

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- A group of local and foreign activists has sent balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the inter-Korean border, but DVDs of the controversial film "The Interview" have been excluded, the group's head said Tuesday.

"As previously announced in November, (we) scattered 100,000 anti-North Korean leaflets near (the border town) of Paju last night," Park Sang-hak, the head of the Fighters for a Free North Korea, told Yonhap News Agency. "The DVDs of 'The Interview' were not included on purpose."

   About 20 American activists, including some from the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation, also joined the border campaign, according to officials.

Claiming the exclusion of the DVDs as a warning to North Korea, Park said the group will spread a massive amount of "The Interview" DVDs if the North is not cooperative with South Korea's dialogue offer and its proposal for a reunion of separated families.

The activist group often flies leaflets carrying anti-regime messages in big plastic balloons across the border in a bid to spread dissenting messages in the reclusive communist country. Park had pledged to add the DVDs to their campaigns this month.

The Monday action came despite South Korea's calls on the activist group to scrap their campaigns after the North's repeated threats of retaliation.

In a news interview released earlier on Tuesday, Park indicated his intention to push ahead with the DVD campaign.

"The Interview" DVDs would not be scrapped without an official government request," the activist group head said.

"I have previously vowed to accept if a person in charge of government administration requests restraint in the form of an official letter, but no such request has been made," Park said in an interview with Washington-based Radio Free Asia.

"We are in a position in which we cannot refrain from the plan only upon a verbal request from the government," he said.

The South Korean government has maintained that on principle it will not interfere with the campaign because it is a matter of freedom of speech, although it may take action to prevent any safety risks that might result from the activities.

Last week, a high-level government official met with Park face-to-face and verbally advised him against a future campaign.

On Tuesday, a unification ministry official again reiterated its stance that "Leaflet spreading by private groups belongs to a sphere of the basic freedom of expression, therefore the government cannot force them (to stop) and the private sector should decide for themselves."

   "The government will take necessary action only in case clear risks are posed to the safety of citizens in the concerned region," the official said, adding that the government plans to continue to call for discretion from activists.

The release of the U.S. comedy film, which revolves around an American TV producer and a show host's trip to North Korea to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has previously drawn angry reaction from the communist country.