South Korean authorities today banned the planned release by anti-North Korean activists of balloons containing propaganda leaflets across the demilitarized zone after threats of a military attack by North Korea if the release went ahead.
South Korean police and army units have blocked South Korean roads leading to the intended launch site near the demilitarized zone that separates communist North Korea from its southern neighbour, reports 20 minutes.
Last Friday, North Korea had threatened to strike the South militarily if South Korean based activists, many of whom are North Korean defectors, went ahead with their plan to release political leaflets over North Korean territory this week.
North Korean defectors had announced their intention to send leaflets attached to balloons across the border between the two Koreas near the town of Paju, about 60 kilometres (about 37 miles) north of the South Korean capital Seoul on October 22 at 11:30 (0230 GMT).
Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, South Korean based activists have been regularly dispatching propaganda leaflets denouncing the Pyongyang based regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un via balloon flights above North Korean territory over the past few months. In their texts, the activists call for North Koreans to rise up against their oppressors.
Previously, the North, which imposes total censorship on its territory, had threatened to prevent such actions but had not acted upon its threats. This occasion was different, however, in that North Korea was specific as to the time and location of the threatened retaliation.
"At the slightest movement related to the projected release, units of the Western Front launch a ruthless military strike without notice," warned the Korean People's Army, the military arm of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), in a statement. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) army is one of the largest army’s in the world with an estimated more than a million soldiers under its command.
Tensions were raised as South Korea immediately responded that it would retaliate in response to any DPRK strike on the South. "Our military units near Imjingak are maintaining readiness to immediately return artillery fire," a senior South Korean military official is quoted by the news agency Yonhap South Korea as saying, "We are closely watching the North Korean military's movements."
The North Korean army, quoted by the official North Korean news agency KCNA, advised local residents to "evacuate in anticipation of any damage. The area will be the target of direct fire of Korean People's Army," a statement said.
Tensions have remained in the divided Korean peninsula since hostilities of the Korean War ended in 1953. Despite the ending of the ‘hot’ war more than half a century ago, North and South Korea have never signed a peace treaty, merely an armistice, and remain, to this day, technically in a state of war.
The past couple of years have seen rising tensions between the two Koreas. In March 2010, North Korea was blamed for the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette which resulted in the deaths of 46 sailors. In November of the same year, the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was shelled by North Korean forces. After the attack on Yeonpyeong, the South Korean army had resumed propaganda operations of distributing leaflets across the border after an 11 year moratorium.
Each year, despite the tightest of security, hundreds of North Koreans, fleeing hunger or repression, manage to make it to the South. According to official figures, reports Le Point, more than 21,700 North Koreans have defected to the South since 1953, half of the total being in the last five years. Any North Korean making it across the border to the South is automatically granted South Korean nationality.