Anti-N Korea leaflets escalate ideological division

Policemen surround a bus carrying South Korean activists after local residents hurled eggs at it near Imjingak peace park in the border city of Paju, north of Seoul.

Scuffles, screams and spiteful words thwarted an anti-Pyongyang leaflet-distribution campaign near the inter-Korean border Saturday, underscoring a deepening ideological division in South Korea.

Shortly after noon, a group of conservatives tried to reach Imjingak pavillion near the Demilitarized Zone to float balloons carrying tens of thousands of leaflets designed to awaken North Koreans to the brutality of the dictatorial regime.

But residents and liberal civic activists blocked them from approaching Imjingak, arguing that the leaflets would further worsen cross-border relations and jeopardize the lives of people living near the tense border. They pelted those carrying balloons with eggs, while some of them tried to tear the balloons with knives.

Conservative activists called the opponents "pro-North Korean forces," stressing that they would not cave in to any threat from them. The two sides engaged in intense scuffles with thousands of police trying to disperse them and ensure their safety.

"We will not yield to any pressure. We will fly leaflets that would cover the whole of North Korea," one of the conservative activists shouted.

One resident living near Imjingak criticised the leaflet distribution, saying that he could not manage his work because he was worried that Pyongyang could launch an attack similar to the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo Island in 2010, which killed two marines and two civilians.

"It is the peak season for farmers like me as we have to reap the harvest. But we can't do our daily work due to the tension here over the leaflet distribution. What's worse, the number of tourists has sharply decreased," the resident told the media.

Faced with strong opposition, the conservative activists moved to a different place in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, and flew some of the balloons they had prepared.

The North called the leaflet-flying campaign an "act of war," reiterating that it would further damage the already strained inter-Korean relations.

"The consequences would be grave if the South, full of evil thoughts, should continue to fly leaflets slandering our dignity and system," said an article in the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party.

"Should the South Korean authorities allow the commotion over the leaflets to happen again, the inter-Korean relations would be destroyed to the extent that they cannot be restored."

On Oct. 10, the North fired at balloons that South Korean civic groups floated from the border areas, which caused South Korean troops to fire back. Some of North Korean shells landed in the South's civilian access control area, sharply raising military tensions.

The issue of the anti-North Korean leaflets is a highly sensitive issue for Pyongyang as they condemn its highest authority, namely its leader Kim Jong-un, and allows its people to gradually realise how they have been mistreated by the brutal regime.

The North has therefore pressured the South Korean government to block civic groups from flying the leaflets. But Seoul has repeated that it cannot regulate civilian activities due to a democratic governance structure.

Cheong Seong-chang, senior researcher at the think tank Sejong Institute, said that the leaflet-distribution was too radical a method that could dampen the mood for inter-Korean dialogue.

"Should the Seoul government really want dialogue and a real change through expansion of bilateral exchanges, it should do something to deal with radicals and extremists in our society," he said.