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North Korea Says Millions of Leaflets Readied Against South

FILE - North Korean youth and students wearing protective face masks hold a rally condemning leaflets launched by defectors in South Korea with messages critical of Kim Jong Un's regime, in Pyongyang, North Korea, June 6, 2020. (Kyodo via Reuters)

North Korea said on Monday it has readied thousands of balloons and millions of leaflets in preparation for "retaliatory punishment" against South Korea.

The detail, in a state media report, came a day after the North said it was preparing to begin an anti-South leaflet campaign following a series of vitriolic condemnations of Seoul because of anti-North leaflets floated over the border.

Defectors in the South send such leaflets, which criticize the North's leader Kim Jong Un over human rights abuses and his nuclear ambitions. The messages are usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

Analysts have said North Korea has been conducting a series of staged provocations aimed at forcing concessions from Seoul and Washington.

"The preparations for the largest-ever distribution of leaflets against the enemy are almost complete," a report by the Korean Central News Agency said.

"Publishing and printing institutions at all levels in the capital city have turned out 12 million leaflets of all kinds reflective of the wrath and hatred of the people from all walks of life," it said.

More than "3,000 balloons of various types capable of scattering leaflets deep inside south Korea, have been prepared," along with other means of distribution, KCNA added.

Inter-Korean relations have been frozen for months, following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim and US President Donald Trump early last year.

That meeting foundered on what the North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

The nuclear-armed and impoverished North is subject to multiple United Nations Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programs.

The South's President Moon Jae-in initially brokered a dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, but the North now blames him for not persuading the United States to relax sanctions.

"South Korea has to face the music. Only when it experiences how painful and how irritating it is to dispose of leaflets and waste, it will shake off its bad habit," KCNA said.

"The time for retaliatory punishment is drawing near."

As part of what analysts saw as staged provocations, the North last Tuesday blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border, triggering broad international condemnation.

It has also threatened to bolster its military presence in and around the Demilitarized Zone.

The North's actions appear to be carefully calibrated, with Pyongyang drawing out the process by issuing multiple incremental warnings from different official sources -- leadership, government departments and the military -- ahead of each step it takes.

The North's two consecutive days of comment about its leaflet campaign came after Kim Yeon-chul, South Korea's point man for relations with the North, resigned over the heightened tensions. He expressed hope that his departure "will be a chance to pause for a bit".

Photos carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Saturday showed North Koreans preparing the leaflets.

Seoul's unification ministry urged Pyongyang to withdraw the plan "immediately", calling it "very regrettable".

South Korea has also warned of a "thorough crackdown" against activists sending anti-North leaflets. It filed a police complaint against two defector groups over the messages that have offended Pyongyang.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after Korean War hostilities ended with an armistice in 1953 that was never replaced by a peace treaty.