A South Korean group launched hundreds of thousands of leaflet-stuffed balloons across the border with North Korea overnight, an activist said on Tuesday, even as Pyongyang warned it would retaliate against such actions.
The move is certain to further inflame tensions between the Koreas. North Korea recently abruptly raised its fiery rhetoric against South Korean civilian leafleting, destroyed a Seoul-built liaison office on its territory and threatened to redeploy troops to demilitarised areas.
On Monday, North Korea’s state media said it had manufactured 12 million propaganda leaflets to be floated towards South Korea in what it said would be its largest-ever anti-Seoul leafleting campaign.
Local officials in South Korea were looking into the account and may ask the police to investigate it as a potential safety threat to front-line residents.
Activist Park Sang-hak said his organisation floated 20 huge balloons carrying 500,000 leaflets, 2,000 one-dollar bills and small books on North Korea from the border town of Paju on Monday night.
Park, who defected from North Korea, said in a statement that his leafleting is “a struggle for justice for the sake of liberation of” North Koreans.
Calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “an evil” and his rule “barbarism,” Park said he would continue sending anti-Kim leaflets.
“Though North Korean residents have become modern-day slaves with no basic rights, don’t they have the rights to know the truth?” he said.
South Korean officials have vowed to ban leafleting and said they would press charges against Park and others, who have have been sending leaflets towards North Korea for years.
Park accused South Korea’s liberal government of sympathising with North Korea or caving to its threats. Park’s brother, another activist also formerly from North Korea, last week cancelled plans to release bottles filled with dried rice and coronavirus masks from a front-line island.
South Korean authorities said Park’s activities are raising animosities and potentially endangering border residents.
In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire at propaganda balloons flying towards their territory, triggering an exchange of fire.
Gyeonggi province, which governs Paju, has issued an administrative order prohibiting anti-Pyongyang activists from entering certain border areas, including Paju, to fly leaflets to North Korea.
If Park’s leafleting is confirmed, Gyeonggi official Kim Min-yeong said the province will demand a police investigation. The penalty for violations is a year in prison or a maximum 10 million won ($8,200) fine.
North Korea does not tolerate outside criticism of its ruling family, whose legitimacy rests on a personality cult built around the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, whose military’s surprise invasion of South Korea triggered a devastating three-year war in June 1950.
Park previously said he would push to drop a million leaflets over the border around Thursday, the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.
A large banner that Park said was flown to North Korea with the leaflets on Monday shows the image of Kim Il Sung and calls him “the slaughterer of (the Korean) people” and urged North Koreans to rise up against the of the Kim family, according to photos distributed by Park.
In recent weeks, North Korea has unleashed crude insults against activists like Park, describing them as “human scum” and “mongrel dogs.” It said it would also take a series of steps to nullify agreements signed in 2018 to reduce tensions with South Korea.
Experts say North Korea is probably using the leafleting as an excuse to boost its internal unity and apply more pressure on Seoul and Washington amid stalled nuclear diplomacy.