(Adds unification minister, analyst)
By Jack Kim
SEOUL, Feb 25 (Reuters) - South Korea’s military has been dropping leaflets into North Korea about democracy protests in Egypt, a legislator said on Friday, but doubts lingered it would trigger calls for change in the tightly controlled country.
As part of a psychological campaign, the South Korean military also sent food, medicines and radios for residents in a bid to encourage North Koreans to think about change, a conservative South Korean parliament member, Song Young-sun, said.
While Seoul’s move could cause alarm in the North’s leadership, Pyongyang’s rigid refusal to respond to demands for change means its people will unlikely rise up to the type of protests against their leaders as in Egypt and Libya, analysts and officials said.
South Korea’s defence ministry declined to confirm the move.
“Compared to some of these Arab societies, they have done a much more effective job in maintaining control over the public,” said Cho Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification.
“You’re never going to be able to predict a collapse until the day it happens, but even then, this is a much more perfectly closed society with control over information and travel.”
North Korea maintains tight control over communications including the use of telephones and over movement of people, leaving many in the country unaware of world affairs.
“Officials and authorities are sure to know about it,” said Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said in parliament, when asked whether news of public unrest in Libya and in Egypt that toppled its long-time leader had reached the North.
“But I don’t believe the public is aware of the situation.”
The food and medicines were delivered in light-weight baskets tied to balloons with timers programmed to release the items above the target areas in the impoverished North, Song said in a statement.
The food items bore a message that they were sent by the South Korean military and were safe for human consumption but could be fed to livestock to test safety, legislator Song said.
The leaflets also carried news of public protests in Libya against the country’s long-time leader, Song’s office said.
Analyst Cho questioned the effectiveness of the leaflets, saying most people in the North do not have the mental capacity to understand what freedom and democracy is. “And if there is some criticism about Kim Jong-il, they will only get scared.”
South Korea’s military has resumed its campaign of speaking directly to North Korean residents after the North bombarded an island near a disputed sea border in November, killing four people including civilians.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula rose to the highest level in years after the artillery attack and the sinking of a South Korean navy vessel in March last year, but the two sides have since renewed a dialogue aimed at easing relations.
Their first attempt at talks broke down earlier in February dealing a setback to plans to resume international disarmament talks with the North. (Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)