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SEOUL — More than 3,000 riot police and SWAT team members are patrolling the city’s streets and subway system during the ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercise in case of a North Korean terror attack, the National Police Agency said Wednesday.

This is the first time riot police and SWAT teams have been deployed en mass during an exercise.

The extra forces have been deployed because of North Korea’s increasingly threatening posture toward the South, not because of a specific threat, according to the agency’s terror section chief.

North Korea has threatened to turn the South into a “sea of flames” in retaliation for the Foal Eagle/Key Resolve exercise, one of two major joint exercises held every year.

The U.S. says the exercise, which began Monday, is defensive in nature. The North said in a statement issued by the Korean Central News Agency on Sunday that the exercise is preparation for an invasion of the North.

The terror section chief said officials are worried that a North Korean strike could happen away from the land or maritime borders, where North Korea has attacked twice in the past 11 months.

North Korea allegedly sank a South Korean warship during a routine patrol last March, and bombarded a South Korean island in November. Fifty people, including two civilians, were killed in the two incidents. South Korea has threatened to respond with force to future North Korean provocations.

The NPA official said the extra forces are stationed in likely targets for terrorists, including near U.S. military bases and the U.S. embassy. Riot and SWAT police are also stationed outside Seoul at the country’s four major airports in Incheon, Gimpo, Gimhae and Jeju Island; and in populated Gyeonggi province, located adjacent to Seoul and home to Osan Air Base.

He said the extra police will be deployed until at least March 10, when the command and control portion of the exercise ends, and possibly until the field portion of the exercise ends April 30.

Meanwhile, South Korean activists announced Wednesday that they will send anti-North Korean propaganda across the border next week, according to The Associated Press. The North has said it will attack South Korean border towns if Seoul allows activists to launch balloons carrying leaflets critical of Pyongyang.

The Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea said it will send about 200,000 propaganda leaflets, $1 bills and USB flash drives carrying videos on the recent wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries as early as Monday, the AP reported.

“We won’t yield to the North’s threat and blackmailing,” Park Sang-hak, the head of the group, told the AP by telephone.

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense said he was unaware of the group’s plan, and would not comment on whether the MND expects North Korea to respond with force if the propaganda is released.

The MND spokesman said South Korean troops are not on any heightened alert during the exercise. USFK spokesman David Oten said he would not comment on whether U.S. troops were on a heightened alert because of military policy.


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