North Korea renewed its threat Friday to attack South Korea over anti-Pyongyang leaflets being sent into the country, a sign of lingering tension after the sinking of a South Korean warship.
Civilian activists regularly use balloons to launch leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Il across the heavily fortified border, a tactic Pyongyang views as part of official South Korean psychological campaigns aimed at toppling its regime.
The North warned during military talks with South Korea last month that it might fire artillery at sites the activists use to launch the balloons.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said earlier this month that the military would immediately resume full-scale propaganda activities against North Korea in the event of any new provocations by Pyongyang, but has so far limited that to radio broadcasts.
The broadcasts resumed after the sinking of a South Korean warship in March that killed 46 sailors. A multinational investigation led by Seoul concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the warship, though Pyongyang has denied involvement.
On Friday, the North's military denounced the South Korean defense minister's comments as a declaration of a war against North Korea, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported.
"If the South side does not halt ... broadcasting and the scattering of anti-(North Korean) leaflets, it will never be able to escape the KPA's physical strikes at the broadcasting means and leaflet-scattering centers," the North's military said, referring to its official name, the Korean People's Army.
The North sent the protest message to military officials in South Korea, KCNA said. North Korea's military said its response would depend on how South Korea reacts.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the threat.
The latest warning comes amid mixed messages from the North. Pyongyang has recently reached out to South Korea and called for talks on the resumption of stalled tours to a resort inside North Korea. The two sides have also agreed to hold the first reunions in a year later this month for families divided by the Korean War.
Yet, Pyongyang also lashed out at Seoul for staging naval drills with the U.S., Australia and Japan this week that the allies said were rehearsals for intercepting illicit weapon shipments from nations such as North Korea. The North believes any military drills involving the U.S. are aimed at an eventual invasion.
North Korea "stands for dialogue and peace but if the aggressors impose a war upon it, it will wipe them out to the last man and blow up their strongholds," the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by KCNA.
The South Korean and the U.S. air forces kicked off their annual drills Friday, which they say are aimed at improving their combined combat capabilities. The drills will last for a week, according to Seoul's Defense Ministry.