South Koreans launch "sock balloons" into the North

SEOUL Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:16am EST

SEOUL (Reuters) - Members of a South Korean human rights group launched giant balloons carrying leaflets into North Korea on Saturday, a week after the death of the reclusive state's leader renewed tension on the Korean peninsula.

The launch, which drew supporters from Britain, the United States, Japan and South Africa, was the second this week and risks angering the North because of the leaflets criticizing the regime in Pyongyang.

More than 50 members of the Korean Peninsula-International Peace Organization gathered on the outskirts of Paju, just 3 km (2 miles) from the world's most heavily militarized border, to launch four huge balloons.

"The people of the world do not forget the ordeal that our North Korean brothers are undergoing," the leaflets said. "Please be alive until the day of unification."

Lee Ju-seong, a spokesman for the group, said the balloons also carried hundreds of pairs of socks they hoped could be traded for food on the North Korean black market. Chronic food shortages in the communist North have left many people starving.

"Until the day of reunification we will continue to send socks," said Lee, who defected from North Korea several years ago.

In the past, North Korea has threatened to retaliate against the balloon launches. The government in Seoul backed down this week from plans to light Christmas towers near the border after Pyongyang said it might strike at the South if they were lit.

The government in Seoul has not tried to stop the balloon launches since Kim's death, announced on Monday, although activists have been discouraged in the past to avoid provoking the North.

(Reporting by Kang Seongbin; Writing by Sung-won Shim)

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