Two North Koreans have been executed in front of 500 spectators for handling propaganda leaflets floated across the border from South Korea, reports say.
The executions were carried out on January 3 and appeared to be part of a campaign by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s regime to tighten ideological control as it grooms his youngest son as eventual successor.
The victims were a 45-year-old woman accused of reading a South Korean propaganda leaflet and failing to notify authorities and a high-ranking regional military officer charged with pocketing the dollar bills that were sent along with the leaflets, a leading South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Monday.
It quoted Choi Sung-Yong, the head of Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea, as saying that North Korean security services rounded up some 500 people, including 50 family members of South Korean prisoners of war and abduction victims, and made them watch the execution.
The executions were carried out at Sariwon, 45 kilometres (27 miles) south of Pyongyang, in front of 500 spectators following a special ideological session on the leaflets, AFP reported.
South Korean activists, including Choi, have floated balloons carrying hundreds of thousands of anti-Pyongyang leaflets, DVDs and one-dollar bills across the heavily fortified frontier.
The money was designed to encourage North Koreans to pick up the flyers despite the risk of severe punishment. The leaflets typically pour scorn on the North's regime and call for its overthrow.
Choi, citing a source in Sariwon, said that six members of the victims' families had been sent to a camp for political prisoners.
"North Korea apparently carried out the executions to teach a lesson to its people," Choi said.
He said the regime appeared to have stepped up ideological control as Kim Jong-un prepares to take over power from his father.
"It seems North Korea is stepping up monitoring and crackdowns on people who read or listen to anti-communist propaganda to ensure the hereditary transfer of power" from Kim to his son Jong-un, Choi was quoted by Chosun Ilbo as saying.
Choi, whose own father was abducted by the North, runs an organisation which has arranged the escape of some former POWs and abductees.
Prisoners of war
South Korea estimates that about 500 prisoners of war from the 1950-53 conflict were never sent home from the communist North.
It also says 480 South Korean civilians were abducted to the North in the post-war years. The North denies holding any South Koreans against their will.
Pyongyang's military last September threatened to open fire on South Korean sites used for the propaganda leaflet launches unless the Seoul government halts the practice.
North Korean defectors say anyone who picks up an anti-communist leaflet must notify the authorities or face severe punishment.
North Koreans are taught from a young age that eating South Korean-made cookies causes gut rot while picking up pens or lighters made in the South will make the hands decay, they said, according to Chosun Ilbo.
News of the executions came amid reports that South Korea will soon propose holding talks with Pyongyang that could pave the way for a resumption of six-party negotiations aimed at ending the North’s nuclear weapons drive in return for aid.
Last week, Pyongyang agreed to the South's terms for talks to try to defuse one of the worst crises on the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Tensions rose on the Korean peninsula last year after a South Korean navy ship was sunk by a torpedo attack in March that Seoul blamed on Pyongyang.
The North also staged an artillery attack on a South Korean island in November.
Reported by RFA’s Korean service and news agencies. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.