News / Asia

Koreas Trade Threats Over Propaganda Balloons

Balloons containing leaflets denouncing Pyongyang are seen after former North Korean defectors released them towards North Korea at a field near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Gimpo, west of Seoul June 24, 2012.
Balloons containing leaflets denouncing Pyongyang are seen after former North Korean defectors released them towards North Korea at a field near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Gimpo, west of Seoul June 24, 2012.
The two Koreas are exchanging threats ahead of a planned launch of balloons in the South Monday to send leaflets to the North - an event Pyongyang considers a provocation. 

 North Korea issued a fresh threat Friday in a dispatch from its army's western front command to conduct a military attack if there is any attempt in the South to send balloons northward.

The military says an October 22 propaganda balloon launch is being orchestrated by what it calls traitors and the South Korean military.

In a Friday afternoon radio broadcast, a North Korean announcer, reading the military statement, says if even the smallest movement is detected to scatter propaganda leaflets, the Western Front will launch a merciless military strike without warning.

The dispatch also requests those living around the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju City -- just south of the DMZ and about 30 kilometers north of Seoul - to evacuate the area “in anticipation of possible damage.”

South Korea's defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, told members of the National Assembly if the North fires on the pavilion, the South's military will promptly attack the source of the shelling.

Professor Yang Moo-jin at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies says Pyongyang has made similar threats before but never acted on them.

Yang says this latest threat is likely a response to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's visit this week to a frontier island where he vowed to protect the disputed maritime border and punish any provocations from the North.

The professor says he doubts that previous propaganda leaflets floated North had any real impact and Pyongyang is merely using the next planned launch as a pretext to raise tensions.

Yang says while South Korea's government could ask the private group to halt their activities he does not think they should because it is important to send a message to Pyongyang that provocations will not be tolerated.

The head of Freedom Fighters for North Korea, the group planning to launch the balloons says the threat of an attack will not deter them.

The two Koreas technically remain at war since a 1953 armistice halted three years of destructive civil conflict that killed more than two million civilians and combatants.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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