North Korea yesterday threatened a "merciless" military strike on South Korea next week, prompting a swift vow of retaliation from Seoul in a serious escalation of cross-border tensions.
The Korean People's Army (KPA) said it would launch the attack if North Korean defectors in the South went ahead with plans to scatter anti-regime leaflets on Monday from balloons floated over the border.
The threat came a day after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited an island close to the disputed maritime frontier that was shelled by the North two years ago.
"The moment a minor movement for the scattering is captured ... a merciless military strike by the Western Front will be put into practice without warning," the KPA said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
A group of North Korean defectors plan to carry out the leaflet exercise on Monday before noon at the border near the town of Paju, around 60 kilometres north of Seoul.