South Korea police block anti-North leaflet launch

South Korean activist Choi Woo Won (left).
South Korean activist Choi Woo Won (left). PHOTO: AFP

PAJU, South Korea (AFP) - South Korean police on Friday blocked activists from launching anti-North Korea leaflets across the heavily fortified border, amid elevated military tensions on the divided peninsula.

About 100 police officers formed human barriers to block vehicles carrying around 30 activists to the border town of Paju, from where they had planned to launch helium balloons carrying the leaflets into North Korea.

The pamphlets criticised and mocked the North's ruling Kim dynasty and condemned a landmine attack blamed on Pyongyang that maimed two members of a South Korean army border patrol earlier this month.

South Korea vowed the North would pay a "harsh price" for the attack and this week resumed - after a decade-long break - the broadcast of propaganda messages into the North using batteries of powerful loudspeakers along the border.

Seoul also announced a series of heavy-weaponry, live-fire military drills with the United States not far from the border.

The mine blasts came as cross-border tensions were already heating up ahead of a two-week long South Korea-US wargame that simulates an invasion by North Korea.

On Thursday, the North labelled the annual "Ulchi Freedom" exercise a "declaration of war" and warned of its ability to make retaliatory strikes against Seoul and the White House.

Despite the elevated tensions, the anti-North activists who were turned back from Paju argued that their balloon launch should have been allowed.

"North Korea deserves merciless punishment for planting the mines," Choi Woo Won, a leading activist, told reporters.

Park Sang Hak, who heads a group of defectors called Fighters for a Free North Korea, claimed they had managed to launch some 200,000 leaflets earlier in the day in an unpublicised operation east of Paju.

Pyongyang has long condemned the leaflet launches and threatened to shell the launch sites in retaliation.

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

The incident scuppered a planned resumption of high-level talks.