Defectors who have been sending bottles loaded with rice near the inter-Korea border are under greater scrutiny of the South Korean government. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
July 16 (UPI) -- South Korea is to expand investigations into North Korea defector-led human rights groups in the wake of a standoff between Seoul and the activists, who recently launched balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets near the border.
An official with South Korea's unification ministry told reporters Thursday the ministry has selected 25 non-governmental organizations for "inspections." North Korean dissidents lead more than half the groups, Newsis reported.
The move from the government agency comes after the ministry declared the operations of two groups, Fighters for a Free North Korea and Keunsaem, "illegal" and has not ruled out revoking the groups' operating licenses.
On Thursday, the ministry official suggested the selected defector groups are to be investigated because of a possible lapse in their disclosures to the government.
Organizations that did not submit "sufficient reports" on operations are top priority for government investigators, and the list could grow to include other groups, the report says.
The rules are not new; the ministry retains the right to request documents from entities registered with the government, including an examination of firm assets, according to Newsis.
The ministry official who spoke to reporters on Thursday also said the move was not the result of recent "issues" with defector balloon launches or leafleting.
South Korea moved to curb leafleting following statements from North Korean official Kim Yo Jong, who is being sued by a lawyer in private practice over the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. The case has been filed with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, Yonhap reported Thursday.
On Wednesday, a coalition of U.S.-based activists, including Suzanne Scholte, chairwoman of North Korea Freedom Coalition, delivered a letter to the South Korean Embassy in Washington. The signed letter addressed to President Moon Jae-in requested him to reconsider plans to revoke operation permits for activists like Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for a Free North Korea.
Scholte and others said defectors have been harassed and investigated without sufficient cause.