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(LEAD) N. Korea threatens to launch 'merciless' fire over propaganda leaflets

All Headlines 17:03 April 22, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with South Korean activists sending 300,000 leaflets in paras 9-10; Minor edits in paras 1-2)

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Friday threatened to launch "unpredictable and merciless" fire against South Korea over its anti-Pyongyang leaflets, the latest warning amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to ease tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and revive stalled talks on the North's nuclear programs.

South Korean activists and defectors frequently send hundreds of thousands of leaflets calling for a popular revolt to topple North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, which the North sees as psychological warfare against it.

In a carefully orchestrated move, they floated some 200,000 leaflets on April 15 that included stories of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East in hopes of inspiring North Koreans to eventually rise up against their longtime autocratic leader.

April 15 is the birthday of North Korea's late founder Kim Il-sung, the father of the current leader, and is one of the most important holidays in the isolated country along with that of his son.

The North has bristled at any outside criticism of its leader and threatened to open fire over the propaganda activity in recent months.

On Friday, the North's military warned in a message to its South Korean counterpart that leafleting "is a form of psychological warfare and just a clear-cut war provocation to a warring side."

"Direct fire at the area where leaflets are let fly will be a legitimate punishment" against the violator of an armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, the North's military said in the message carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

It also warned that it will "expand the scope of direct fire ... into full-scale destruction fire at any area anytime," noting that confrontational moves from Seoul against the North "will result only in unpredictable and merciless punishment from our army."

But as the North's news agency issued the warning, South Korean activists floated some 300,000 leaflets near the eastern land border with North Korea.

Lee Min-bok, who organized the campaign, said he will continue to send leaflets, saying the North's threat is an indication that leaflets are having an impact on North Koreans.

The North's military also claimed that the South fired machine guns in the direction of the North near the heavily armed border on April 15, calling it an "unpardonable military provocation."

South Korea's Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters it was an accidental firing and said its military closely monitors the North's military movement and maintains preparedness to cope with any possible North Korean provocation.

The latest warning comes amid diplomatic efforts by South Korea, the United States and other regional powers to jumpstart the international talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

Top Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei is scheduled to visit Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart next week, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said, without giving further details.

The North has expressed its willingness to rejoin the nuclear talks that it quit in 2009, but Seoul and Washington have demanded that Pyongyang first demonstrate its denuclearization commitment by action.

Seoul also wants Pyongyang to apologize for the two deadly attacks last year that killed 50 South Koreans, including two civilians.
(END)

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