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Tensions over planned leaflet launch on Korea border

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South Korean activists vowed Friday to push ahead with a political leaflet launch over the border with North Korea, despite threats of retaliation from Pyongyang, appeals for restraint from Seoul and the angry opposition of local residents.

The activists plan to release balloons carrying around 40,000 leaflets criticising the North’s government across the heavily-militarised frontier on Saturday.

Pyongyang, which refers to the activists as “human scum”, has long condemned the launches and in recent weeks has stepped up its demands for the authorities in Seoul to ban the practice entirely.

Two weeks ago, North Korea border guards attempted to shoot down some balloons, triggering a brief exchange of heavy machine gun fire between the two sides.

“If another leaflet scattering operation is conducted despite the repeated warnings … inter-Korean relations will be pushed to an uncontrollable catastrophe,” the North said in a statement on Thursday.

It has also warned that failure to halt future launches could scupper the planned resumption of high-level talks between the two Koreas.

The South says there is no legal basis for a blanket ban, but it has urged the activists to exercise common sense and restraint.

The groups behind Saturday’s planned launch remain undeterred and insist they will push ahead with the event in the border town of Paju, some 40 kilometres northwest of Seoul.

“We see no reasons to stop it. We are used to threats from North Korea,” said the main organiser, Choi Woo-Won, a philosophy professor at Busan University.

But opposition to the launch is not just coming from Pyongyang.

Several dozen local residents have been holding a sit-in at the proposed launch site since Thursday, protesting that the threats of military retaliation are credible and that the activists are putting their lives and businesses at risk.

“It’s easy for them to launch such leaflets but it’s the residents who must bear the consequences,” local pastor Lee Jeak told AFP by phone.

“We are ready to physically prevent the leaflet launch that threatens the livelihood of so many people,” Lee said.

Despite Seoul’s stance that the activists have a democratic right to launch the leaflets, it has previously prevented them at times of high cross-border tensions, citing the possible dangers posed to local residents.

A senior National Police Agency official said hundreds of officers would be deployed on Saturday, but declined to specify if and when they might intervene.

“We would take necessary measures if danger arises,” he said, adding that the initial focus was to prevent a clash between the activists and residents.

Park Sang-Hak, a North Korean defector who often organisers leaflet launches, said his group would carry out a similar event on Saturday, but away from the glare of the media. SAPA

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