SEOUL — South Korean activists floated leaflets attacking North Korea's regime across the border Friday, the first launch since the North threatened "merciless retaliation" against the protesters.
The launch came a day after the North's leader Kim Jong-Il expressed willingness to hold unconditional talks with the United States and South Korea, including a summit with the South's leader.
Kim's written message was delivered to visiting former US president Jimmy Carter just before he ended a peacemaking visit to the communist state without securing a meeting with the leader.
South Korea's government had no immediate response to the offer. But conservative newspapers and activists accused Carter of acting as a mouthpiece for Pyongyang, in comments he made at a Seoul press conference Thursday.
At Imjingak, a tourist site near the border, some 50 defectors and other protesters launched 200,000 leaflets slung under 10 large gas-filled balloons.
Timing devices were attached to scatter the bundles of leaflets north of the heavily fortified border. They contained news of Arab uprisings and called for the overthrow of Kim's regime.
The balloons also carried hundreds of DVDs, USB flash drives and one-dollar bills, an incentive for North Koreans to overcome fears of punishment and pick up the leaflets.
The North's military last week stepped up threats against the launches, vowing to open fire at any place and at any time to halt what it calls a smear campaign.
Cross-border relations have been icy since the South accused the North of sinking a warship in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives.
The North denies involvement but shelled a South Korean border island last November, killing four people including civilians. It says the attack was provoked by one of Seoul's military drills.
Carter and three other retired leaders visited Pyongyang to try to ease cross-border tensions, assess food shortages and push for denuclearisation.
Carter told the press conference about Kim's message and pressed for the resumption of food aid to avert what he and the other ex-leaders called a crisis.
He also accused the US and South Korea of a "human rights violation" for, in his view, withholding the aid for political reasons.
The South's media had mixed reactions to the visit.
A Yonhap news agency editorial urged Seoul to seize the opportunity to resume inter-Korean talks, noting that President Lee Myung-Bak has repeatedly said the South is keeping all possibilities for dialogue open.
"It is the first time that Chairman Kim has made a proposal to President Lee for a summit. We cannot deny this is a step forward," Yonhap said.
But the conservative Joongang Ilbo said Carter's remarks in Seoul showed he had lost capability as a mediator, accusing him of taking sides with the North and "parroting" its line on issues such as human rights conditions.
Another conservative daily, the Chosun Ilbo, said Carter was acting like a mouthpiece for Pyongyang.
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