- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s military warned Wednesday that it would retaliate against South Korea if Seoul doesn’t stop activists from launching propaganda leaflets across their divided border.

The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to end decades of propaganda warfare across the Demilitarized Zone dividing the neighbors. However, the South Korean government says it cannot prevent activists from sending the leaflets, citing freedom of speech, though it has urged them to stop so that they don’t damage relations on the peninsula.

The North’s military said it “will never tolerate even the slightest acts” of undermining “our leadership’s absolute authority.” The comments came in separate statements issued in Korean and English that were carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The North demanded South Korea immediately punish activists engaged in sending leaflets and disband their organizations, saying hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets were flown to the North on Jan. 1.

“The separatists at home and abroad will never be able to flee from a stern punishment by the nation for challenging history,” the English-language statement said.

The North has issued similar threats in the past, including one late last year.

Chun Hae-sung, a spokesman at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said Wednesday that the South has no law that could ban activists from launching leaflets. He didn’t elaborate.

The North’s threat came two days after it again proposed peace talks to formally conclude the Korean War, which ended with an armistice in 1953, not a peace treaty, thus leaving the peninsula technically in a state of war.

The country, which says it was compelled to develop atomic bombs because of U.S. threats, said its return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks depends on better ties with Washington and the lifting of international sanctions on it.

On Jan. 1, about 70 South Korean activists tied tens of thousands of leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to balloons and launched them across the border. Some protesters also burned large North Korean flags with Kim’s picture printed on them.

“We’ll continue to send leaflets because we must convey voices of hope to our North Korean compatriots,” Choi Woo-won, an activist and university professor who helped organized the leafleting, said Wednesday. “We must help North Koreans to develop the power to rise up against the Kim Jong Il regime.”

A separate group of South Korean activists unsuccessfully tried Tuesday to send thousands of leaflets by balloon to the North to let residents know about a U.S. Christian missionary believed detained in the communist country. The balloons, however, burst before crossing the border amid strong winds blowing from North Korea.

Robert Park, a 28-year-old Korean-American from Arizona, slipped into the North in late December to call international attention to the country’s alleged human rights abuses, according to South Korean activists. North Korea subsequently said it had detained an American for entering the country illegally but has not identified him.

Relations between the Koreas turned sour after a pro-U.S., conservative government was inaugurated in Seoul in early 2008 with a tough policy on the North. Pyongyang responded by suspending reconciliation talks and joint projects.

The North, however, has tried to reach out to Seoul and Washington since last summer in an about-face that some analysts say shows the regime is feeling the pain of U.N. sanctions imposed following its second nuclear test in May last year.

Associated Press Writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report.

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