Police on Monday blocked a group of activists from floating helium balloons carrying anti-communist leaflets to North Korea from the Imjingak pavilion overlooking the inter-Korean border. The move came in response to a threat from Pyongyang to attack the area if the activists go ahead.
The government had never previously stopped activists in similar efforts to send propaganda leaflets to the North.
"Paju city assemblymen and village elders also drove to the scene in their cars to stop the activists. That's how serious the residents were about resisting them," said a Cheong Wa Dae official. So the government "had to send police because it could have created a conflict among South Koreans that poses a threat to social harmony."
The official added the activists, who are mostly North Korean defectors, publicly announced their plans "and pushed ahead more aggressively than ever before," provoking North Korea's ire.
South Korean officials were concerned that North Korea could use military force against the activists. Earlier, North Korea threatened to strike the Imjingak pavilion should the activists float their leaflets across the border. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin vowed to deal sternly with any attacks from the North.
The activists accused the government of being oversensitive. "Activists and local residents have clashed several times in the past," one activist said. "But that they blocked us today shows that our government is afraid of a 28-year-old," i.e. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Meanwhile, a high-ranking military source here said the Army "went on highest alert level after a North Korean artillery unit entered combat readiness mode." The North Korean military has now eased its combat-readiness level and the South Korean military followed suit.