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North Korea demands end to propaganda leaflets

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[October 27, 2008]  SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea threatened Monday to expel South Koreans working in the North if Seoul does not prevent activists from dropping propaganda leaflets across the border, a South Korean defense official said.

Military officers made the demand to their South Korean counterparts during a 20-minute meeting at the border, the second official meeting between the rival Koreas since the North broke off relations in February.

The North Koreans repeated a threat made during talks earlier in the month to expel South Koreans working at two joint reconciliation projects in the North if the leafletting does not stop, said Col. Lee Sang-cheol, head of the Defense Ministry's North Korea department.

The joint projects are an industrial park in the border city of Kaesong and a resort at scenic Diamond Mountain.

The Koreas agreed in 2004 to end decades of propaganda warfare involving leaflets, loudspeakers and radio broadcasts. However, activists in South Korea continue to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North, and the South Korean government cites freedom of speech in its refusal to stop them.

South Korean military officers told their counterparts from the North on Monday that the government has appealed to activists to refrain from sending leaflets, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. South Korean officials also urged the North to stop slandering South Korean President Lee Myung-bak though its state media, the ministry said.


Still, activists pushed ahead with their propaganda campaign on Monday, sending helium balloons filled with about 100,000 leaflets denouncing North Korea's authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Il.

Some of the leaflets mentioned Kim's reported health troubles, and called for the North Korean people to rise up against him, according to activist Choi Sung-yong.

U.S. and South Korean officials say Kim suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery, but the North has denied there is anything wrong with the 66-year-old leader.

An association of South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong complex said it has written activists asking them to stop sending the leaflets, saying the propaganda campaign could jeopardize their businesses.

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"We're having harder time since the leaflet issue came out," Lee In-dong, an official at the Cooperation of Kaesong Industrial Council, said Monday. "Many foreign buyers are canceling orders."

The complex combines South Korean technology and management expertise with cheap North Korean labor. Some 84 South Korean firms operate in the zone, employing about 35,000 North Korean workers.

During Monday's talks, military officers also discussed improving communication between the countries, South Korea's Defense Ministry said. The two Koreas are linked by nine military hot lines but some are now out of service for technical reasons, the ministry said.

The two Koreas technically remain at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The nation is divided by one of the world's most heavily fortified borders.

The North suspended reconciliation talks with the South after President Lee took office, and earlier this month warned that it would sever remaining relations unless South Korea abandons what it calls a policy of "reckless confrontation."

Both military teams of four were headed by a lieutenant colonel-level officer.

[Associated Press; By HYUNG-JIN KIM]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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