South Korean activists known for sending balloons into North Korea with messages critical of its leader said on Tuesday that they had again launched balloons carrying leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un. The messages came despite Seoul requesting the group refrain from the practice as it might hurt chances for dialogue between the two Koreas. The activists gave Pyongyang an ultimatum: Respond to South Korea’s call for dialogue or we'll send copies of “The Interview,” the anti-North Korea comedy flick, via balloon.
Pyongyang had said the leaflets were damaging any chances of inter-Korea dialogue, and has warned North-defector Park Sang-hak, who oversees many of the balloon launches, that he would "pay for his crimes in blood" if copies of “The Interview” made it across the border. Park said his group secretly sent about 100,000 leaflets into North Korea Monday night near the border town of Paju, but the balloons contained no copies of the Sony Pictures movie, according to Reuters. North Korea allegedly hacked Sony Pictures last December prior to the release of the film, which Pyongyang has denied any involvement.
Park’s group, Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), also gave Pyongyang a deadline of Feb. 18 to respond to South Korea President Park Geun-hye’s call for high-level dialogue. If that doesn't happen, the group said, it will follow through on its threat to send “a massive number of DVD and USB (memory sticks) copies of the film ‘The Interview’” across the border. That deadline falls on the day before the Lunar New Year, a festive period Seoul had hoped could unite families in both Koreas after decades of division since the Korean War ended, in 1953. The FFNK has also said it will not send out any leaflets until then, to give the North time to respond.
"The Interview" features a fictional plot about the CIA trying to assassinate Kim Jong Un. The U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation, which supports the FFNK's activities, had said last December the group intended to send 100,000 copies of the movie into the North this year, despite threats of military action from Pyongyang. Pyongyang has said Washington committed "an act of war" by allowing the movie to be made, according to Reuters.
"Some people think it's funny, some people think it's not funny ... But almost everyone we've spoken to said this film in North Korea will create a lot of healthy discussion and debate among North Korean people," Thor Halvorssen, the head of the HRF, said, according to Channel News Asia.
North Korean military forces in border towns shot at balloons floated over by the FFNK in October, with shells landing in the South and sparking gunfire exchange. Local residents living near the launch sites of Paju have complained that the activists are putting the locals' lives at risks, with residents once interrupting a press conference by defector Park and Halvorssen with banners reading “HRF, get out of Korea” and “Park Sang-hak the leaflet merchant,” according to Channel News Asia.