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Chief of balloon flier campaign to North Korea

Posted March. 17, 2014 04:09,   


Lee Min-bok feels strong spirit of challenge these days. Having earned the nickname “chief of the balloon flier campaigning toward North Korea,” he flew propaganda fliers to the North from Cheorwon, Gangwon Province and Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province on March 4, without informing the events to the media or the government. But one day later, North Korean authorities sent a protest memo to the national security office at the presidential office, which means that his fliers fell on the North Korean territory. This was the greatest news for Lee, who believes that fliers informing North Koreans of truth and reality are the most effective weapon that can bring about change in the North.

As a North Korean defector who came to Seoul in 1995, Lee started flying fliers in 2003. After his initial use of rubber balloons, he developed a sag-shaped vinyl balloon in July 2005 that enabled him to disperse fliers en masse in the North. Later, Lee invented a timer helping rupture balloons in the sky over a target region. At first, he used a chemical timer to rupture balloons with chemicals, but replaced the device with a mechanical timer in July 2008. After developing the mechanical timer for three-hour flight targeting regions up to Pyongyang, he developed a 10-hour timer that allows balloons to carry fliers across the entire North Korean territory. He is also known to use moisture-proof vinyl fliers.

Unlike other North Korean defector groups, Lee sends fliers in secret. He flies balloons only when he is certain balloons can fly to the North by analyzing wind direction and speed. Some organizations disregard wind direction, and hold events meant to show off, and as a result fliers sometimes fall in the South. Lee refrains from sending fliers in the winter, when wind direction is not appropriate. During this past winter, he sent balloons only twice on Feb. 7 and March 4, when wind was exceptionally good.

The presidential office said the government cannot block South Koreans from flying fliers into the North, noting that freedom and speech and assembly is guaranteed under the Constitution for citizens. Lee welcomes the South Korean government’s confident response, but he has one wish. He hopes that the police in charge of protecting him will stop blocking him from sending fliers, whenever the North protests and threatens. He feels grateful and confident because a number of civilian supporters send him words of encouragement and donations.

Editorial writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)