SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean marines have dismantled a 43-year-old Christmas tower on the border with North Korea that the North had threatened to attack with artillery, officials here said Wednesday.
Built on a front-line hilltop northwest of Seoul in 1971, the 59-foot steel tower, tipped with a cross, used to be illuminated with cascades of light bulbs around Christmas during the Cold War years. Batteries of loudspeakers sent Christmas carols drifting across the snow-covered border into the North, where the totalitarian regime repressed religious freedom.
It was part of the psychological warfare the two Koreas continued to wage along the 155-mile border even after their three-year war ended with a truce in 1953. The sides carved their border hills with large slogans exhorting opposing troops to defect to the capitalist South “for freedom” or to the “people’s paradise” of the communist North. They also used radio broadcasts and balloons carrying propaganda leaflets.
The rival Koreas discontinued most of the campaign after they agreed to stop slandering each other when they held a summit meeting in 2000.
The South Korean marines stopped lighting the Christmas tower in 2004. In 2010, when the North was accused of torpedoing a South Korean warship, the military let Christian groups light the tower again. It was around this time that conservative activists in the South also began sending propaganda balloons into the North. The tower was lighted one more time in 2012, when the North fired a long-range rocket two weeks before Christmas.
North Korea, which denies involvement in the sinking of the South Korean ship, has lashed out at the revival of the Christmas tower and leaflet balloons, calling them a breach of the 2000 summit agreement and threatening to fire on them.
On Oct. 10, the two armies exchanged machine-gun fire after the North tried to shoot down leaflet balloons that South Korean activists had released across the border. South Korean police officers and villagers near the border have since tried to stop the activists from launching balloons.
The Christmas tower was torn down last week, military officials confirmed Wednesday. They denied that its removal was related to South Korea’s efforts to entice North Korea into high-level dialogue despite the recent shooting episode. They said the old tower had become so rusty that it was a safety hazard.