World and Nation

South Korea bars leaflet drop over border with North

SEOUL, South Korea — Activists said Monday that they had succeeded in sending large balloons drifting into North Korea carrying tens of thousands of leaflets, despite South Korean police efforts to block the action and a threat from the North Korean government to retaliate with a military attack.

The threat of a military clash prompted the South Korean authorities to block the activists, mostly defectors from North Korea, from reaching Imjingak, a border village northwest of Seoul, where they had planned to release the balloons. Hundreds of South Korean farmers living in nearby villages were ordered to go to bomb shelters, and the alert level was raised all along the border.

But the activists said later that they had eluded police and released the balloons from an island west of Seoul instead.

It was not immediately clear whether the balloons successfully scattered the leaflets over the isolated North, where the government struggles to keep nearly total control on its impoverished populace and bristles at any intrusion of outside news or opinion. There was no immediate response from North Korea.

Activist leaflets typically discuss the vast gaps between the economies and living standards in the North and the South, include lurid accounts of the luxuries that the North Korean ruling family enjoys and contradict the North’s official history books, which claim that the Korean War was started by the United States rather than by the North’s invasion of the South in 1950. Some leaflets carry Christian messages.

“We could not delay our plans to send the leaflets, because they carry our promise and love for our North Korean brothers,” the activists said on the website of Free North Korea Radio, a Seoul group that broadcasts outside news into the North.

Kim Seong-min, the head of the radio group and a leader of the leaflet campaign, criticized the South Korean authorities for blocking the activists from releasing balloons in the border village.

“South Korea is retreating under a North Korean threat,” he said. “Once you retreat under this kind of blackmail, you will continue to be pushed back.”

The North Korean threat of retaliation, issued Friday, was hardly unprecedented. Recently, the North has threatened to attack the Seoul office of President Lee Myung-bak, whom it has called a rat, and vowed to bombard the offices of major newspapers and television stations in the South that criticize the North.

Still, South Korean police took the threat seriously, erecting roadblocks, banning tourists and journalists from the area, and scuffling briefly with activists who tried to barge through their cordon.