South Korean activists launched balloons on Saturday to send leaflets to North Korea with messages critical of its leader, ignoring threats of military action from Pyongyang and a plea by Seoul not to jeopardize efforts to improve ties with the North.
Anti-North activists clashed with residents of the border area and leftist group members advocating engagement with North Korea. Local people tried to block the balloon launch, saying it threatened peace. A string of incidents appear to have turned many in the South against the leaflet campaign.
But a small group of mostly North Korean defectors broke away and launched balloons carrying about 20,000 leaflets from the nearby city of Gimpo after nightfall. Speaking to Reuters by telephone, the leader of the group, Pak Sang-hak, confirmed the launch.
“Things like this will trigger artillery firing at us,” said Kwon Soon-wan, 63, who said he was born and raised in Munsan, the northern-most area of Paju. “Safety is top priority because it’s our lives that are hanging in the balance,” he added.
On Saturday, the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper repeated a warning that inter-Korea ties will forever collapse if the South Korean government continued to allow the leaflet campaign, which it called “an act of war.”
The propaganda printed on the leaflets infuriates Pyongyang. The messages often single out the North’s young leader Kim Jong Un, questioning his legitimacy to rule a country where people struggle with poverty while his family lives in luxury and scarce resources are channeled to arms programs.