SEOUL, South Korea -- A North Korean defector group in Seoul claimed on Tuesday to have launched air balloons carrying medical supplies near the inter-Korean border.
The Fighters for Free North Korea, an activist group of North Korean defectors who send anti-propaganda leaflets across the border, said they flew 20 air balloons carrying 50,000 pain relief pills, 30,000 vitamin C and 20,000 N-95 masks. Dispatching unauthorized materials at the border is against the law in South Korea.
“In order to help the miserable mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in North Korea who are dying without any medicine, the Fighters for Free North Korea is temporarily halting the anti-Pyongyang leaflet sending, and will send medical supplies to help with COVID situation in the North,” Park Sang Hak, a North Korean defector who leads the activist group, told ABC News.
The South Korean government since 2020 has banned sending leaflets across the border. Sending them carries a maximum prison term of three years or fines up to $27,400.
The non-government organization has been gathering help from human rights support groups based in Seoul and the U.S. to send medical supplies to the North since the Kim Jong Un regime acknowledged the outbreak on May 13.
North Korea remains one of the only two nations without COVID vaccines. Ever since admitting that it had its first COVID patient, the isolated regime has been announcing the number of ‘fever patients’ and COVID-related deaths through its state media daily. Lacking medical supplies to treat the pandemic, Pyongyang’s main newspaper, Roding Sinmun, advised people to use traditional remedies such as drinking willow or honeysuckle leaf tea.
“In South Korea, even animals are given medicine to treat diseases, the North Korean regime is uncivilized at the worst level,” Park told ABC News. “All we want for the families and friends in North Korea is for them to be treated with real medicine to fight COVID-19.”
An official from the Unification Ministry told ABC News that police and other authorities were working to confirm Tuesday's balloon launch.
"The ministry understands the intent of the distribution, but believe in the need [for the group] to restrain its activities considering the sensitive inter-Korean relationship and the government’s effort for cooperation in the inter-Korean disinfection, and whether [the activities] could actually help the North Korean people,” the official said.
The group claims that it’s the second time this month they have sent air balloons with medical supplies to the North, and will continue to do so.