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North Korea to send '12 million leaflets' to South

June 22, 2020

Pyongyang said that it had prepared various methods — including the use of 3,000 balloons — to deliver the leaflets "deep inside South Korea." Seoul said it would respond depending on the delivery equipment used.

Archive image: South Korean gas-filed balloons carrying anti-North Korean leaflets float from imjingak park near the border with North Korea in Paju on February 16, 2009.
Image: picture-alliance /abaca/M. Han

Pyongyang is preparing to send around 12 million propaganda leaflets to South Korea using 3,000 balloons, state media claimed on Monday.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been escalating in recent weeks. This culminated with North Korea destroying an inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong last week, after South Korean activists sent over some 500,000 leaflets in late May with content criticizing its leader Kim Jong Un.

Citing these leaflets as the reason for its actions, Pyongyang then cut off all cross- border communication lines and threatened to take steps to annul the 2018 deals to ease tensions at the border and float over propaganda leaflets. 

"Our plan of distributing the leaflets against the enemy is an eruption of the unquenchable anger of all the people and the whole society," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said, in a typically colorful tone. "The time for retaliatory punishment is drawing near."

According to the statement, Pyongyang had prepared various methods — including using balloons — to deliver the leaflets "deep inside South Korea."

A view of an explosion of a joint liaison office with South Korea in border town Kaesong, North Korea in this picture supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 16, 2020.
North Korea has been upset with its southern neighbor of late, destroying their joint liaison office for cross-border communication in KaesongImage: Reuters/Kcna

Seoul urges calm

South Korea called on its northern rival to suspend its plan to send propaganda leaflets across the border. 

Yoh Sangkey, a spokesman at Seoul's Unification Ministry, told reporters that Pyongyang must scrap its plan to send leaflets that "are not helpful to South-North relations at all."

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told lawmakers that Seoul would take "immediate, swift and corresponding" steps to any North Korean provocation, adding that how his military responds would on what delivery equipment the North used to launch the leaflets. 

Pyongyang's delivery options south of the border are limited, but some analysts believe that drones might be one possible method at its disposal if the weather isn't favorable for balloons. The South could be more likely to respond to drones in its airspace.

Leaflet warfare

In 2018, both North and South Korea agreed to stop hostilities towards one another along their border, including psychological warfare such as leafleting and propaganda broadcasts. However, the agreement didn't specify whether civilian leafleting would also be banned.

Consequently, South Korean activists kept sending massive balloons carrying anti-North leaflets as well as leaflets critical of the North's nuclear program and human rights record.

A North Korean defector living in the South and leader of an anti-North Korea civic group, holds a balloon containing leaflets denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, March 26, 2016.
A lot of the leaflet campaigners in the South are refugees who fled the North; this archive image hails from 2016Image: Reuters/K. Hong-Ji

The Seoul government sought to respond rapidly, moving to enact a law banning all civilian activists from launching balloons across the border. However, it's yet to completely halt the activity. A South Korean activist recently said he would drop about a million leaflets over the border around Thursday — the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. 

Read more:  Kim Jong Un's sister threatens military action against South Korea

mvb/msh (AP, dpa, AFP)