South Korea activists postpone The Interview DVD balloon launch

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean activists on Monday postponed plans to send thousands of copies of the Hollywood movie The Interview to North Korea, following criticism from Seoul and dire warnings of military reprisals from Pyongyang.

The activists had previously announced they would use giant balloons to launch 500,000 anti-North leaflets and 10,000 DVDs of the comedy - about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - across the border on or around March 26. The date marks the anniversary of the 2010 sinking of a South Korean naval corvette, the Cheonan, that Seoul blamed on a North Korean submarine.

The activist behind the planned launch, Mr Park Sang Hak, said a decision had been made to postpone the event. Although he declined to provide a specific reason, Mr Park has come under increasing pressure from the South Korean authorities to cancel.

He also suggested the postponement was not indefinite and conditional on North Korea apologising for sinking the Cheonan. "If there is no reply from North Korea, we will push again for the launch of leaflets and DVDs," he told AFP.

North Korea has labelled The Interview a "wanton act of terror". It was accused by the FBI of being behind a devastating cyber attack last November on the studio behind the Seth Rogen movie, Sony Pictures.

On Sunday the North Korean military said it would respond to the activists' operation by shooting down any balloons using "all the firepower strike means" of frontline border units.

Any military response from South Korea would then "entail double and treble merciless retaliatory strikes", the Korean People's Army said in a statement.

The North has always denied any involvement in the Cheonan incident, in which 46 South Korean seamen died, and Mr Park's condition appeared more of a face-saving exercise than a genuine ultimatum.

South Korea insists the activists have a democratic right to release the balloons, but has appealed for restraint to avoid overly provoking the North and endangering residents near the launch sites.

Last week the South's Unification Ministry suggested the authorities might step in to prevent Park's DVD launch, saying "necessary measures" should be taken to protect local residents from any North Korean retaliation.

Last October North Korea border guards attempted to shoot down some balloons, triggering a brief exchange of heavy machine gun fire between the two sides.