Rival Koreas trade fire over propaganda balloons

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North Korea and South Korea trade fire
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Rival Koreas trade fire over propaganda balloons
North Koran defectors prepare to release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. The letters on balloons read "End the world's worst three generation dictatorship and Down with Kim Jong Un." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koran defectors prepare to release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean marine LVT-7 landing craft sail to shores through smoke screens during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea said North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koran defectors watch the sky as they release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koran defectors prepare plastic bags containing leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, for attaching to balloons in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies are dropped from balloons which were released by North Koran defectors in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV news program showing the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 26, 2014. North Korea fired three short-range projectiles Thursday into the waters off its east coast, a South Korean defense official said. The move was most likely a routine test-firing, but the official said it could also be meant to stoke tensions with Seoul. The writing on the screen reads "The missiles were launched to alert and express its internal solidarity." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man watches a TV news program showing the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 26, 2014. North Korea fired three short-range projectiles Thursday into the waters off its east coast, a South Korean defense official said. The move was most likely a routine test-firing, but the official said it could also be meant to stoke tensions with Seoul. The writing on tje screen reads "The missiles were launched to alert and express its internal solidarity." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers and soldiers vow to smash the "U.S. imperialists" as they gather for a meeting to mark the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. The writing on the sign in foreground left reads "Don't forget the wolfish American imperialists!" (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Pyongyang citizens march through the Kim Il Sung Square while chanting slogans and holding posters denouncing the United States to mark the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Posters read: "Thousand-fold revenge" and "Severe Punishment." (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers and soldiers fire their weapons during an event marking the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers and soldiers fire their weapons during an event marking the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
Korean People's Army (KPA) officers prepare to fire their pistols during an event marking the 64th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
A South Korean marine LVT-7 landing craft sail to shores through a smoke screen during the U.S.-South Korea joint landing exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea said North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean and U.S. Marines aim their machine gunds during the U.S.-South Korea joint landing exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea says North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In this photo provided by the Ongjin County, residents of Yeonpyeong Island rest as they evacuate from their homes to a shelter on the island, South Korea, near the West Sea border with North Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. North and South Korea fired artillery shells into each other's waters Monday, a flare-up of animosity between the rivals that forced residents of five front-line South Korean islands to evacuate to shelters, South Korean officials said. (AP Photo/The Ongjin County)
South Korean marine LVT-7 landing craft sail to shores through smoke screens during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises called Ssangyong, part of the Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea, Monday, March 31, 2014. South Korea said North Korea has announced plans to conduct live-fire drills near the rivals' disputed western sea boundary. The planned drills Monday come after an increase in threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches in an apparent protest against the annual military exercises by Seoul and Washington. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A South Korean Marine stands on a beach as amphibious assault vehicles (in background) approach the seashore during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. Meanwhile, the two Koreas traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter a day after the North drove up tensions by threatening a new nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Marines take a position on a beach during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. Meanwhile, the two Koreas traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter a day after the North drove up tensions by threatening a new nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Marine amphibious assault vehicles land on the seashore during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. North Korea announced a live-fire drill on March 31 near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, further ratcheting up tensions a day after threatening a 'new form' of nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
US (L) and South Korean (bottom) marines take a positon during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. North Korea announced a live-fire drill on March 31 near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, further ratcheting up tensions a day after threatening a 'new form' of nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Marine amphibious assault vehicles land on the seashore during a joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines in Pohang, 270 kms southeast of Seoul, on March 31, 2014. North Korea announced a live-fire drill on March 31 near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, further ratcheting up tensions a day after threatening a 'new form' of nuclear test. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
North Koran defectors prepare to release a portrait of deceased North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop by hanging it from balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. The activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets over the border on Friday when North Korea marks the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. The letters on the portrait read " Down with Kim Jong Un." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North and South Korea traded machine-gun and rifle fire Friday after South Korean activists released anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons across the border, officials said, a reminder of the bitter rivals' animosity despite some recent glimmers of trust building.

North Korea opened fire nearly two hours after the release of the balloons and several machine-gun bullets fell south of the border near a South Korean base and a residential area, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

He said South Korea then fired 40 rounds from machine guns. North Korea then opened fire with rifles, which South Korean soldiers responded to in kind, Kim said. There were no reports of damage or injuries. It wasn't immediately clear if North Korea was firing at the balloons.

The Defense Ministry was holding an emergency meeting. Some residents of Yeoncheon, a town near the border, evacuated after the gunfire, according to Im Doo-jin, a village official responsible for civil defense training.

The exchange of fire comes as speculation grows about the condition of North Korea's authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, who has been out of public view for more than a month. He missed a major event on Friday, the founding anniversary of the North's ruling Workers' Party, for the first time in three years.

South Korean activists and North Korean defectors frequently release balloons carrying leaflets into the North, but Friday's action was especially provoking because it came on the anniversary.

South Korean civic organizations mainly made up of North Korean defectors sent balloons from several areas along the border, including 10 balloons from Paju that contained 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets, 1,000 U.S. $1 bills, 400 propaganda DVDs and 300 propaganda USB thumb drives.

Anti-North Korean Protesters Send Anti-Pyongyang Leaflets to North Korea

North Korea's Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea released a statement Thursday criticizing the planned leaflet launch, calling it "little short of a declaration of a war."

"If the South Korean authorities allow or connive at the projected leaflet-scattering operation, the north-south relations will again be pushed to an uncontrollable catastrophe and the provokers will be wholly accountable for it," the statement said.

North Korea has issued similar warnings about leaflets in the past but hasn't acted on its threats. South Korea has responded that it can't ban activists from launching leaflets because of the country's freedom of speech.

Hopes for better ties between the countries, which fought a devastating three-year war in the 1950s and are still divided by the world's most heavily armed border, had risen somewhat after a senior-level North Korean delegation made a surprise visit to the South last week and met with South Korean leaders. The two sides agreed to resume talks among senior officials.

But there has also been lots of speculation about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Indications that Kim remains firmly in power were evident, however. His name appeared on a flower basket placed before statues of his father and grandfather, both of whom also ruled North Korea, and an earlier dispatch said the might of the party "is growing stronger under the seasoned guidance of Marshal Kim Jong Un."

State media haven't shown Kim, who is thought to be 31, performing his customary public duties since he attended a concert on Sept. 3. He had been walking with a limp and was more overweight than usual in images broadcast before that. An official documentary from late last month described him as dealing with "discomfort," which led to international speculation that he may be ill.

Much of what happens in Pyongyang's inner circles is hidden from the eyes of outsiders and even from average North Koreans. This leaves media in South Korea and elsewhere to speculate, sometimes wildly, about what's really happening. Some reports indicate that Kim could have gout, diabetes or other ailments, with much of the speculation based on that single reference in the documentary and unidentified sources speaking to South Korean media.

South Korean officials played down the speculation and said Kim appears to be in charge of key affairs.

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