Defectors send bottles of food and facts to North Korea

The bottles sent by North Korean defectors contain food, cash, medicine, and memory sticks. (AFP pic)

SEOUL: North Korean defectors sent water bottles filled with rice and K-pop-loaded USB sticks floating towards their homeland on Tuesday, even as the two Koreas removed border loudspeakers following a rare summit last week.

The North’s leader Kim Jong-un and the South’s president Moon Jae-in agreed last week to “completely cease all hostile acts” along the Demilitarised Zone from May 1, including loudspeaker broadcasts and leaflet balloon launches.

But former North Korean political prisoner Jung Gwang-il and other activists tossed bottles into the sea, hoping the tide will carry them northwards.

Seoul is playing into Pyongyang’s hands by depriving ordinary North Koreans of much-needed information, Jung said.

“What is one thing that Kim Jong-un hates the most?” he asked. “It’s North Koreans becoming aware of the reality.”

The defectors have been throwing hundreds of bottles filled with food, cash, medicine, and memory sticks into the sea twice a month for more than two years.

It will take about four to five hours for the bottles to reach the closest North Korean shore, said another defector Park Jung-oh.

“We all lived in North Korea for at least 30, 40 years so we know exactly what the people there want and need,” Park said.

“When they watch the content of our USB sticks, they will realise that they have been tricked by their government,” he added.

There is no definitive way of verifying whether the items have been received, but Jung said the South’s coastguards have told him the bottles are often retrieved by North Korean fishing boats.

The USB sticks contain movies, current affairs programmes, and K-pop music videos – carefully selected by Jung to include female musicians in revealing outfits.

“It shows what freedom is,” he said. “It’s no problem in South Korea but banned in the North. That’s what we want to show.”

A survey conducted in 2015 said 81% of North Korean defectors had watched foreign films on USB sticks before they fled the country.

Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the UK who defected to the South in 2016, once described the USB sticks as an effective tactic for spreading information in the isolated country, despite efforts by the Kim regime to block them.

Disseminating outside information was a way to educate North Koreans to resist the authorities, he said after defecting.

As the activists tossed the bottles into the sea, the South’s defence authorities began removing loudspeakers along the Demilitarised Zone to implement the Panmunjom Declaration agreed at last week’s summit.

North Korea also began removing its own loudspeakers, Seoul’s defence ministry said.

The high-decibel loudspeakers have long blared K-pop music and South Korean news towards the North’s border troops, with their use varying depending on the situation.

US activist Susan Scholte called Seoul’s move a “huge mistake”.

“I think any way that you can get information in should be increased, not diminished,” Scholte said.

She added: “Any information that you can get into North Korea is a peaceful, non-violent way to bring about awareness and change.”

Despite the agreement between the two Koreas, Jung said he would continue his efforts to penetrate the notoriously closed regime, eight gigabytes at a time.

“One USB stick can bring about change for a hundred people,” he said.