South Korean NGOs have been floating propaganda and money in helium balloons across the border for years. No secret to the authorities, so why did Kim Jong-Il's regime announce this morning that it will throttle the border and flush out Southerners?

Each containing 10,000 printed leaflets and a wad of bank notes laminated in plastic, the packages are tied up with string and attached to 10-metre-long balloons filled with helium. Their destination? North Korea, where popping one of the floating donations and distributing its contents is banned.

Since 2003, human rights activists have been using the unusual postal method to contact their divided state's northern counterparts. The contents of their message: world news, freedom literature and information about the North Korean regime.

Until recently the balloons were tolerated by the authorities, but at the start of October, Kim Jong Il's regime starting labelling the deliveries "psychological warfare". After weeks of threats from the Unification Ministry, it was announced on Monday that they would "strictly restrict" border crossings, "selectively expel" South Koreans and suspend an historic cross-border train tour.

Coincidentally, the change of tune comes just after the leaflets started to include information about the state of Kim Jong-Il's health; specifying that their "Dear Leader" has suffered a stroke and is soon to prove himself immortal...

Ten thousand leaflets take off on their northbound trip

This bundle is being launched by a religious propaganda group. Various groups use the method to send info to the estranged state of North Korea. Posted by The Voice of the Martyrs 25 Sept. 08.

"Picking up and just glancing at such leaflets is a serious crime"

Kwon Eun Kyoung is an editorial journalist at The Daily NK, an online publication run by the North Korean Democracy Network, including exiled North Korean journalists.  

Sending leaflets to North Korea started after the end of Korean War [1953]. Many defectors were influenced by such leaflets when they lived in the North, which is why fled to the south. Throughout the Cold War and until recently the task was carried out by the South Korean government, but in June 2004, the Roh Moo Hyun administration agreed with the North to stop all propagandist activities over the border including defamatory broadcasting with the use of megaphones, leaflets and banners etc. After that, the NGOs took over the task of sending leaflets.

This is not the only reason they want to close the border. Since Lee Myung-bak took office [February this year], the North has felt uncomfortable about his policies and international leanings, which are considered cold towards the north. Kim Jong's regimes constantly criticise the Lee administration.

It's also a good time for the North to put more pressure on the South because of the new US administration, and some say that the Northern regime is putting forward a hard-line strategy in consideration of Kim Jong-Il's serious illness.

Besides, Kim Jong Il and his clan love to provoke arguments, and they'll use any excuse. This is one of them."