South Korean activists launched balloons on Saturday to send leaflets to North Korea with messages critical of its leader, ignoring threats of military action from Pyongyang and a plea by Seoul not to jeopardize efforts to improve ties with the North.

Anti-North activists clashed with residents of the border area and leftist group members advocating engagement with North Korea. Local people tried to block the balloon launch, saying it threatened peace.

But a small group of mostly North Korean defectors broke away and launched balloons carrying about 20,000 leaflets from the nearby city of Gimpo after nightfall.

Speaking to Reuters by telephone, the leader of the group, Pak Sang-hak, confirmed the launch, but it was not clear if the balloons flew to North Korea.

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