21 Dec 2010

Christmas tree lights could be next Korea flashpoint

10:00 pm on 21 December 2010

Just a day after North and South Korea stepped back from the brink of war, a Christmas tree is threatening to become the latest flashpoint between the two sides.

South Korean marines have been deployed to protect a large Christmas tree on top of a military-controlled hill three kilometres from the tense land border with the North.

The ABC reports that a church plans to switch on the lights on the tree on Tuesday local time - the first such display in six years.

On Monday the South conducted a live-fire artillery drill on Yeonpyeong island, which was shelled last month by North Korea.

The North forswore retaliation despite previously vowing a deadly response to the South's drill.

But officials are now concerned the Christmas tree could become a target for attack, and the highest level of alertness around the hill has been ordered.

Annual ceremony stopped in 2004

Seoul agreed to stop the annual illumination ceremony in 2004 after a deal was reached to halt cross-border propaganda.

The North had accused the South of displaying the Christmas lights in an effort to spread religion among its citizens and soldiers.

The North's constitution provides for religious freedom, but the US State Department says this does not exist in practice.