North assassins foiled in bid to kill top defectorTwo North Korean agents sent to South Korea to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking official ever to defect from Pyongyang, have been arrested, intelligence and law enforcement authorities announced yesterday.
According to the National Intelligence Service and prosecutors, Kim Myong-ho, 36, and Dong Myong-gwan, 36, have been arrested. Both men were majors of the North Korean Army’s reconnaissance bureau, the authorities said.
The two agents were ordered in November by the bureau’s chief, Colonel General Kim Yong-chol, to assassinate Hwang, the former secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
Hwang, who used to be ranked the 24th most powerful person in the North, defected to the South in February 1997 by taking refuge in the South Korean consulate in Beijing. Since his defection, Hwang has faced numerous assassination threats.
Hwang is the architect of juche, the self-reliance ideology of the North Korean regime.
According to the authorities, the agents were sent to China last December and received training.
The men then smuggled themselves into Thailand posing as North Korean defectors with the intention of being arrested by Thai authorities. Kim was sent to the South in January this year and Dong the next month.
“The Thai authorities send arrested North Korean defectors automatically to South Korea, and the two agents took advantage of the policy,” said a prosecution source.
The covers of the two agents, however, were exposed during National Intelligence Service interviews upon their arrivals in the South. During follow-up interrogation, the two men confessed their mission to assassinate Hwang, prosecution sources said.
Prosecution sources said the two men had attempted to kill themselves during interrogation. They are being watched around the clock to prevent suicide, the source said.
The two men are being detained at the Seoul Detention Center in Gyeonggi.
The National Intelligence Service and the prosecution said they will expand the investigation to look into the possibility that the agents were going to contact spies already in the South.
It is not the first time that North Korea has made an attempt to assassinate a senior North Korean defector. Lee Han-yong, a nephew of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s ex-wife, Song Hye-rim, was killed in South Korea in 1997. At the time, no suspect was arrested, but the National Intelligence Service concluded that Lee was murdered by the North’s agents.
By Lee Chul-jae, Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]