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Aid Groups Send North Korea a Message, Aid in a Bottle


06 April, 2018

Some humanitarian groups in South Korea are using unusual ways to send food aid and information to people in North Korea.

Their efforts come as officials from the North and the South prepare for talks between the leaders of the two countries. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom on April 27.

Recently, activists gathered on Ganghwa island in the Yellow Sea, close to the border dividing North and South Korea. The group included volunteers, humanitarian activists and North Korean defectors. They launched packages containing aid into the sea.

The packages look like plastic bottles. They are filled with rice, medicine and American money. The group is also sending information on digital memory devices, which contain movies as well as foreign news reports, which are banned in North Korea.

The activists say the ocean current will carry the sealed containers to cities and towns on North Korea's west coast.

Park Jung-oh told VOA, "If we set the date and time right, it will get there 100 percent." Park is with the Kuen Saem Education Center in Seoul. The center helps North Korean defectors deal with life after they move to South Korea.

Bottles versus balloons

Park said using the ocean current is a safer and better way to send things to the North than using balloons. Humanitarian groups have used balloons in the past with mixed results.

Protesters, center left, and center, take away the balloon from North Korean defector, right, during a rally in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014.
Protesters, center left, and center, take away the balloon from North Korean defector, right, during a rally in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014.

Balloons were used to send packages containing South Korean movies, television shows and news -- materials that are banned in North Korea.

In 2014, North and South Korean forces exchanged gunfire when an activist group launched balloons full of leaflets toward the North Korean border. The incident almost interfered with plans at the time to hold a reunion of families that were separated by the Korean War.

As diplomatic efforts increase before the meeting of the North and South Korean leaders, there has been less attention to the group's activities.

This week, the group also sent more than 500 kilograms of rice in addition to digital information. They have done so repeatedly over the past three years.

The United Nations reports that more than 40 percent of North Korea's population does not get enough to eat. Conditions in the North have improved since the 1990s, when the communist agriculture system failed. Widespread starvation followed.

But food shortages remain common. Some observers are concerned about the international campaign of pressure and economic sanctions against North Korea. The sanctions are aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons program. But observers are worried such measures will increase hunger and poverty in the country.

Defectors bring attention to conditions in the North

Many aid activists are defectors from North Korea. They escaped poverty and repression, and now want to bring international attention to human rights abuses in the North.

Jung Kwang-il is a defector who recently met with United States President Donald Trump during a visit to Washington. He included a copy of Trump's speech to the United Nations as part of the information package the group sent to North Korea. In the speech, the president threatens to destroy the North if it continues to threaten the world with its nuclear weapons program.

Jung said, "So the message that we are sending to them is that the U.S. president knows that you are living in these harsh conditions."

The North Korean defectors involved in the effort have raised money and donated their time.

Kim Yong-hwa is with the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea in Seoul. He said it was a difficult thing to do, but is pleased he sent the materials.

Some of the humanitarian support comes from Christian religious groups. Religious teaching in North Korea is highly restricted.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Brian Padden reported this story for VOA News with contributions form Hyung Jin Kim and Lee Yoon-jee. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

defector –n. a person who leaves a group or country and go to another one that is a competitor or enemy

digitaladj. of or related to computer technology

leaflets – n. small pieces of paper that hold messages usually urging people to take some kind of action

sanction n. measures taken by countries to force other nations to obey international law, usually by limiting trade or finance

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