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Helium balloons did not reach North Korea, Seoul says

North Korean defectors in the South launched helium balloons on Monday night, according to South Korean press reports on Tuesday. Officials said they didn't make it over the border. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
North Korean defectors in the South launched helium balloons on Monday night, according to South Korean press reports on Tuesday. Officials said they didn't make it over the border. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

June 23 (UPI) -- South Korea said none of the helium balloons containing leaflets and anti-Pyongyang propaganda defectors launched on Monday evening made it to North Korea.

Seoul's unification ministry said Tuesday in a position statement that activist Park Sang-hak's claims about the launch are disputable after Park said his group sent about half a million leaflets overnight.

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"Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters For a Free North Korea, has claimed through related sources in Paju he distributed 500,000 leaflets, using 20 large balloons, on the night of June 22," the ministry said. "We consider this information to be of low reliability."

Seoul said "relevant agencies" confirmed balloons were found on the South's side, including in Hongcheon County, Gangwon Province.

"Given the direction of the wind from June 22 to June 23, we understand none of the materials were transported to the North's side."

When police seized hydrogen gas to prevent the launches, Park may have "purchased enough helium gas to launch one balloon" only, the ministry added

Seoul said the balloon found in Hongcheon did not include dollar bills or memory cards, as "claimed by Park."

Ahead of the launch, Park had said each balloon would be loaded with 2,000 $1 bills, according to local paper Hankook Ilbo.

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On Tuesday, Seoul criticized Park and the activists. The government said any attempts to distribute leaflets "heighten tensions between the two Koreas" and "threaten the lives, safety of local residents."

The balloon found in Hongcheon was discovered by a local resident on Tuesday, South Korean television network MBC reported.

Lee Byung-yu said he heard the "thud" of the balloon before it was found in the remote area.

Strong northwesterly winds may have pushed balloons back South, after they rose to an altitude of 3,000 to 5,000 meters, according to MBC's analysis.

South Korea moved to ban the activity after North Korea's Kim Yo Jong called for an end to the balloon launches.

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