North Korea has threatened “unexpected consequences” for South Korea if it does not stop plans for the construction of giant lighted Christmas trees near the two countries' contentious border.
Seoul granted permission to a church group to erect a 100-foot-tall, tree-shaped structure on the top of Aegibong Hill – two miles from the North Korean border. When illuminated by hundreds of tiny light bulbs, the structure is said to be easily visible from the North Korean city of Kaesong.
South Korea said it would consider allowing more groups to build structures along the border.
After hearing of the decision, North Korean news agency Uriminzokkiri called the plan a “mean attempt for psychological warfare.” South Korea claimed the trees represent their country’s freedom of religion and expression.
North Korea has vowed to retaliate.
"The enemy warmongers... should be aware that they should be held responsible entirely for any unexpected consequences that may be caused by their scheme," it said in a notice published by Uriminzokkiri.
Uriminzokkiri added that the lighting is an act of propaganda, as residents of the communist, largely atheistic North Korea are given only repackaged and highly regulated information – information the North’s government purports to be true.
The two countries had reached an agreement in 2004 that forbade either side from promoting religious or political ideas within eyesight of the other country.
But South Korea lit the tree last year following repeated attacks from the North. After suspicions that North Korea sunk a South Korean war ship, killing 46 people, and attacked an island killing four South Koreans, policy makers in Seoul appear no longer interested in appeasing their northern neighbors.
North Korea accused the South of trying to convert its people and soldiers to Christianity with last year’s display.
North Korea claims it has a large stock of artillery, which is already aimed at South Korea, that is fully capable of taking out the tree.
North Korea has a long history of persecuting Christians, who make up about 1.5 percent of the population. Open Doors, an organization raising awareness of persecuted Christians, claims that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are currently detained in North Korean prison camps.
Open Doors put North Korea at the top of its list of the countries where Christians are most persecuted.