South Korean police blocked activists from sending balloons across the border carrying leaflets critical of the North Korean regime, citing security concerns over the North’s threat last week to fire on them.
“We believe the North Korean army is doing various things in line with what they announced last week,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters today in Seoul, saying the military had raised its alert levels in response. He declined to elaborate.
North Korea on Oct. 19 threatened “direct firing” at the balloon launch site, the first such warning against activists since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father as dictator in December. Under the late Kim Jong Il, threats were routinely made against the distribution of leaflets without action being taken. Five episodes earlier this year drew no response from the North.
Police blocked about 80 activists from entering Imjingak, an outpost on the edge of the demilitarized zone about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Seoul, where they were planning to send 200,000 leaflets at 11 a.m. today, Park Sang Hak, leader of the Fighters for Free North Korea said by phone.
The local police, not the military nor the ministry, are handling civilian access to the area, the Defense Ministry’s Kim said, declining to comment on the legality of law enforcement blocking people from protesting against the North.
Freedom of Assembly
“The police are illegally impeding our right of assembly and we will not have it,” said Park, vowing to send the anti- Kim flyers out today. The activists will carry out the leaflet drop at a different location if necessary, he said.
“We will not be bullied, either by North Korea or the South Korean police,” he said.
Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk called the police blockade “an effort to maintain order,” while saying that the government has no legal ground to restrict activism. He urged protesters to exercise “restraint” considering the tension in inter-Korean relations.
North Korea’s Western Front Command said it would make a “merciless military strike” if it detected any move to drop leaflets, according to last week’s statement on the official Korean Central News Agency. South Korea’s military was prepared to “completely destroy” the origin of a North Korean attack, Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told lawmakers the same day.
Defense Shares Rally
None of the 800 South Korean citizens residing within the civilian control line have yet been ordered to leave, though preparations have been made for a possible evacuation, Park Kwang Hae, a City Council official at Paju, the closest city to the DMZ, said by telephone today.
Defense shares rallied at the opening of trading in Seoul, with Huneed Technologies (005870), which manufactures military communication equipment, advancing as much as 11 percent. It fell 1 percent to 3,760 won at the market’s close. Victek Co. (065450), a producer of electronic warfare equipment, rose as much as 6.7 percent before closing 0.9 percent lower at 1,695 won. The benchmark Kospi index declined 0.1 percent to 1,941.59.
The government in the North Korea capital of Pyongyang characterizes the leaflet drops as psychological warfare and an attempt to topple its communist regime — provocations which it has said could ignite a war. South Korean activists and North Koreans who have defected to the South have sent anti-North Korean regime leaflets for years, sometimes including gifts such as US dollar bills and candy.
China opposes any actions that might escalate tension or military confrontation on the Korean peninsula, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.
South Korea bans cross-border launch of propaganda leaflets in balloons
South Korea banned activists from launching anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the heavily fortified border into North Korea on Monday in an unusual move to halt their propaganda campaign.
North Korea’s military said last week it would strike if South Korean activists carried out their plan to fly balloons carrying the leaflets across the border. South Korea pledged to retaliate if it was attacked.
Hundreds of South Korean police were mobilized to seal off roads to prevent activists and other people from entering a launch site near the border, police said. Before Monday’s action, the government had implored activists to stop their campaign, but it cited freedom of speech in not making further attempts to intervene.
Residents near the launch site were also asked to evacuate to underground bunkers, according to local official Kim Jin-a.
North Korea has regularly issued similar threats without following through. But Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday the entry ban was imposed as South Korea detected North Korea uncovering artillery muzzle covers and deploying troops at artillery fire positions in possible preparation for attack. Yonhap cited no source for the information.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it couldn’t confirm the report but said its troops have been placed on a high alert to cope with any potential North Korean aggression.
Dozens of activists, mostly North Korean defectors, planned to send about 200,000 leaflets critical of North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un and his country’s nuclear weapons program.
Lead activist Park Sang-hak said the entry ban is tantamount to yielding to Pyongyang’s threat and his group will try to find another place to float leaflets. “It’s surrender. It’s clearly surrender,” he said.
Ties between the rival Koreas were badly strained after two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
The Korean Peninsula officially remains at war because an armed conflict in the 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.