By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A South Korean activist said Thursday that he launched more giant balloons carrying COVID-19 relief supplies to North Korea, just days after the North promised to crack down on such activity and made a highly suspicious claim that They were a source of viruses.
South Korean experts have expressed skepticism about North Korea’s move to blame South Korean balloons, saying the motive could be to provoke anti-South Korean sentiment and ease public complaints about its outbreak. The coronavirus is spread by people in close contact who breathe airborne droplets, and experts agree that it is virtually impossible for the virus to spread from the surface.
Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, said his team on Wednesday floated 20,000 balloons carrying 20,000 masks and thousands of vitamin C and fever-reducing tablets from the South Korean border town. He said he had sent similar aid materials through balloons across the inter-Korean border twice last month.
Park previously flew balloons to distribute anti-North Korea campaign leaflets, a US dollar bill and a USB stick containing information from outside. But he said he would now focus on sending medical relief supplies because North Koreans urgently needed them.
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Since North Korea acknowledged an omikron outbreak of the virus in May, its state media has said that about 4.8 million North Koreans have had a fever but only 74 have died. Experts suspect that the figures are accurate and assume that the extremely low death toll has been used as a tool to prevent political damage to leader Kim Jong Un.
Last week, state media said the outbreak had identified residents in a town near the border who were in contact with “alien objects” and authorities had been instructed to “deal with wind and other climate events and alien objects arriving by balloon.” “
Some outside experts, however, believe that the Omicron variant entered North Korea when it briefly reopened its northern border with China for freight vehicles in January. Observers say the virus spread further when many North Koreans traveled to and from Pyongyang for a massive public event marking the state anniversary in April.
“The one who spread Kavid-19 is Kim Jong Un. But since public sentiment is really bad, they are trying to put all the blame on us, ”Park said. “How can content spread COVID-19?”
Park is facing trial for past leaflet campaigning under a controversial South Korean law that criminalized such activity, which took effect last year.
Park says he has not been contacted by authorities about his recent ballooning activities. Police said Thursday they are investigating the park’s recent balloon launch but declined to give further details.
North Korea is highly sensitive to outside efforts to criticize Kim’s regime to people who have little access to information from foreign sources. In 2014, North Korea fired in balloons flying over its territory, and in 2020 it destroyed an empty South Korean-made communications office in the north to express its displeasure at the leafleting.
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