North Korea has issued a fresh warning to South Korean activists planning to launch balloons next Monday, threatening a violent response if any leaflets are sent across the border by balloon drop.
While South Korea is well used to these kind of warnings, this time North Korea has specifically called on residents of the Rimjin area to evacuate before Monday in “anticipation of possible damage”.
The Korean People’s Army (KPA) Western Front Command has issued a stern warning to South Koreans intent on releasing leaflets next Monday, saying that “Rimjin Pavilion [where the launches will take place] will become targets of direct firing of the KPA from now.”
Furthermore the notification added, “The moment a minor movement for the scattering is captured in Rimjin Pavilion and in its vicinity, merciless military strike by the Western Front will be put into practice without warning.” The warning ended with the words, “The KPA never makes an empty talk.”
But for the activists releasing these leaflets, these threats are likely to fall on deaf ears. Numerous times in the past, human rights activists have set dates for releasing leaflets and the North has threatened to attack the staging area – only for the events go off without any trouble.
For example, North Korea responded to a launch last October by saying, “The army of the DPRK is always keeping itself ready to take direct fire to destroy the citadels of the psychological warfare in the western sector.”
In April 2011 it threatened “direct fire at the area where leaflets are let fly”, while in February 2011 it said it would “launch direct, targeted firing attacks” on the areas where leaflets were launched. However, none of these threats were followed up with anything more than “empty talk.”
Is there any reason to think this time might be different? Possibly – because within the statement lies a warning for “South Korean inhabitants at Rimjin Pavilion and its surrounding area…to evacuate in anticipation of possible damage.”
As Steve Herman at Voice of America tweeted when the story first broke, this is the first time that the North has specifically instructed inhabitants of Rimjin to evacuate. With tensions escalating along the NLL, and upcoming US and South Korean elections, there is constant worry that North Korea is intent on launching another provocation.
Steve Chung, a North Korea expert based in Seoul, explains that these kind of threats are normal behavior. “Every time North Korea faces these kind ‘propaganda’ provocations from the South, it usually responds with threats of tough action and threats of zero-tolerance.”
“Because of the presidential election in South Korea with less than 2 months ahead, a tough response by Pyongyang may slightly benefit the conservative camp candidate, ie. Park Geun-hye, as usually South Koreans will favor for a stronger, and a candidate who can protect national security and interest for Seoul.”
However, this is not the first time the North has warned residents to evacuate.
Back in February of this year, as South Korea was launching artillery drills near the NLL, the North threatened retaliation and warned civilians on the five islands near the NLL to “evacuate in advance to safe areas” before the shelling commenced.
It turned out to be yet another example of empty talk from the North Koreans as the artillery exercises went off smoothly. This will certainly be in the back of activists’ minds on Monday, and they are unlikely to be deterred from going forward with the launches.
But if the North Koreans do act, it will be an immediate test of Lee Myung Bak’s remarks, made while visiting Yeonpyeong Island on Thursday, that the North would not engage in provocations if South Korea was determined to respond “a hundred and a thousand times” stronger than the North.
Photo by familymwr