North and South Korea traded machine-gun and rifle fire Friday after South Korean activists released anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons across the border.
North Korea opened fire nearly two hours after the release of the balloons, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said, and several 14.55 mm machine gun bullets fell south of the border near a South Korean base and a residential area. Kim said South Korea then fired 40 rounds from K-6 machine guns. The North then opened fire with rifles, which South Korean soldiers responded to in kind, Kim said. There were no reports of damages or injuries. It wasn’t immediately clear if North Korea was firing at the balloons.
The exchange of fire comes as speculation grows about the condition of North Korea’s authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, who has been out of public view for more than a month. He missed a major anniversary event on Friday for the first time in three years.
South Korean activists and North Korean defectors frequently release balloons carrying leaflets into the North, but Friday’s action was especially provoking because it came on the founding anniversary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
South Korean civic organizations mainly made up of North Korean defectors sent 10 balloons northward from the South Korean side of the border. They contained 20,000 anti-North Korea leaflets, 1,000 U.S. $1 bills, 400 propaganda DVDs and 300 propaganda thumb drives.
North Korea’s Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea released a statement Thursday criticizing the planned leaflet launch, calling it “little short of a declaration of a war.”
“If the South Korean authorities allow or connive at the projected leaflet-scattering operation, the north-south relations will again be pushed to an uncontrollable catastrophe and the provokers will be wholly accountable for it,” the statement said.
North Korea has issued similar warnings on the leaflets in the past but hasn’t acted on its threats.