SEOUL, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department has promised substantial financial support for North Korean defector organizations in South Korea, sending a strong message to Pyongyang as North Korea continues to crack down on migrants.
Defector representatives who had attended the closed-door meeting held in January at the State Department said Washington is to commit significant funds to defector organizations that can work toward internal regime change in the North, Yonhap reported Sunday.
Projects that meet U.S. requirements include information dispatches to North Korea – which has usually taken place across the demilitarized zone with helium balloon launches. The balloons typically carried flash drives with information denouncing the Kim regime, as well as South Korean media content and entertainment.
Other groups that could get funding include clandestine activist networks operating inside North Korea and organizations that promote North Korea human rights issues.
The new policy is to send a strong message to the North – that the United States is separating its target of the regime from the welfare of ordinary North Koreans, who are often susceptible to human rights abuses.
But South Korean analyst Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said working toward regime change or reform through defector organizations won't be easy, and "change will take time."
North Korea has increased border controls since Kim Jong Un fully assumed power, and the average inflow of North Koreans into South Korea has dropped sharply from an annual average of 2,500 to about 1,000.
Sources on North Korea also told Radio Free Asia that Pyongyang has launched a propaganda war against defections – a sign that the regime is struggling with the rising number of people leaving the country.
Jiro Ishimaru, the Japanese editor of Asia Press, a North Korea-focused news service, said North Korea recently aired footage of what it claims are images of North Korean defectors starving on the streets of South Korea.
The propaganda was aimed at discouraging defections, and according to eyewitnesses, drew tears from some North Koreans who lack information outside government propaganda.
Other spectators, however, said they knew the images were lies, according to sources.