SEOUL – South Korean church groups have displayed Christmas lights near the tense border with North Korea, an official said Sunday, despite concerns about a violent response from Pyongyang.
Dozens of church leaders and followers put up the giant display — featuring thousands of glittering light bulbs on a tree-shaped steel tower — near the heavily-fortified border on Saturday, a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.
The lights on a military-controlled hill in Gimpo, west of Seoul, will be displayed until early January and can apparently be seen several kilometres away in the impoverished North suffering from chronic power shortage.
Before the South’s “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with North Korea launched in 1998, the seasonal lighting displays were common.
Pyongyang repeatedly condemned them as “psychological warfare” by its capitalist neighbour aimed at spreading Christianity in the isolated communist state.
In 2004 the two Koreas agreed to halt official-level cross-border propaganda and the South stopped the Christmas border illuminations completely.
They were resumed in 2010 after North Korea shelled a frontline island, but were postponed last year in a conciliatory gesture following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.
But the latest illumination has provoked fear among some local residents who staged a protest amid concerns about potential retaliation from the North, according to Yonhap news agency.
“All residents here are left to tremble in fear… as long as the light tower stays here,” a group of residents said in a statement.
Before Kim’s death Pyongyang warned of “unexpected consequences” if Seoul displayed Christmas lights in 2011 and vowed unspecified retaliation.
Cross-border tensions have been high since the nuclear-armed North this month staged a long-range rocket launch widely condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test by the international community.