By Kim Young-jin
Seoul has suspended its launches of anti-regime pamphlets into North Korea, a military source said Tuesday in the latest sign of easing tension on the peninsula.
The decision comes nearly a year after the South resumed the controversial launches in retaliation for the North’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23 last year. The pamphlets are floated across the border attached to giant helium balloons.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the launches have been stopped for “a few months” and that the decision was made in view of the “government’s efforts to improve inter-Korean ties," Yonhap News Agency reported.
Ending an 11-year moratorium, the government resumed the launches and allowed citizen groups to send their own balloons after the shelling that killed four people.
The North has called loudly for the halting of the act, calling it a “war action.” On several occasions, it threatened to fire on border sites where civilians float the balloons, which typically carry pamphlets information on the outside world, including news of the popular uprisings in the Middle East, as well as DVDs and dollar bills.
The source said the military would continue to broadcast anti-regime messages from giant loudspeakers placed near the border. Those were resumed after a 6-year moratorium in response the North’s sinking of the warship in which 46 sailors were killed.
Tension between the sides have been high since 2008, when the Lee Myung-bak administration, seeking a fundamental change in the Pyongyang’s belligerence, implemented a hard line policy that slashed aid to the North and tied its provision to denuclearization steps.
The icy relations have thawed somewhat since July, when the two Koreas sat down for surprise talks in a bid to resume six-party talks on the North’s denuclearization.
Seoul also replaced its hard-unification minister with Yu Woo-ik, who has gradually expanded inter-Korean exchanges under a more “flexible” approach.
In further sign of warming, Seoul completed its delivery of hepatitis B vaccines intended to reach 1 million children in the North, a unification ministry official said.
Worth $942,300, the vaccines were delivered to the North through international relief agencies in the South in two installments. It coincided with Seoul’s recent decision to deliver $6.94 million worth of medical aid northward through the World Health Organization.