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(LEAD) Solving leaflet issue key to inter-Korean talks: ex-minister

2015/03/18 15:22

SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea should first resolve the controversial issue of anti-Pyongyang leaflet scattering if it wants to resume a dialogue with North Korea, a former unification minister said Wednesday.

The comment by Jeong Se-hyun, who served as unification minister from 2002 to 2004, came amid fears of escalated inter-Korean tension over local activists' plan to send anti-North Korea leaflets in balloons to the communist country next week.

North Korea has threatened to shoot them down with cannons or missiles, but Seoul has largely maintained a hands-off position over what it calls freedom of expression.

"The (South Korean) government claims the leaflet scattering is a matter of free expression, but such a slander on (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un is something fatal to the North," the former point man on the North said in a local symposium.

"If the Park Geun-hye administration wants to hold a meaningful inter-Korean dialogue during its term, it should send a sincere message that (Seoul) will acknowledge and respect (Pyongyang)," he noted.

Seoul should first resolve the inter-Korean row over the leaflet issue and then open a high-level contact for eventual inter-Korean talks, the former official said.

Touching on the Park administration's unification drive, Jeong also said that the North could take it as Seoul's strategy to reunify the Koreas by absorbing the regime and use it as momentum to further beef up its military might.

That would eventually make it hard for the South to manage the security environment on the peninsula in a stable manner, he noted.

"The ultimate purpose and effectiveness of inter-Korean talks is to improve and develop bilateral relations stably," he said.

The local activist group Fighters for a Free North Korea is planning to use big plastic balloons to launch anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North on March 26 in a campaign meant to spread dissenting messages in the reclusive country.

Despite the North Korean military threats and some local opposition over safety risks the campaign poses to border residents, Seoul has so far shown no intention to block the controversial activity.

Last October, the launch of balloons carrying these leaflets incited Pyongyang to fire machine guns at them, with some of the rounds falling near a town lying south of the Demilitarized Zone that bisects the Koreas.

South and North Korea remain technically in a state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.