North orders hit on defense minister

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North orders hit on defense minister

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A file photo of Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin on a visit to Yeonpyeong Island on Dec. 4, 2010, right after he took the post. [JoongAng Ilbo]

A team of North Korean assassins in the South has embarked on a mission to kill Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Tuesday citing senior government officials.

“The South Korean and U.S. intelligence communities and militaries have obtained information that the North’s assailants are working in the South to assassinate Kim,” an official was quoted in the JoongAng Ilbo, which broke the story.

The official said it was not clear whether the North had deployed agents directly, hired foreigners and sent them to the South, or if North Korean agents already in the South had been given the assassination order.

Another government source also confirmed the information. “South Korean and U.S. authorities are doing their best to find out more details about this assassination team,” he said. “And Kim’s security detail has been beefed up to protect him.”

The sources said that Kim has been placed under special protection measures, with four non-uniformed military police officials guarding him.

“Kim has often stayed at the Bachelor Officer Quarters when he had late nights at work,” said a government official well informed about Defense Ministry affairs. “But now he has been advised to stay at the BOQ, not his residence, for security reasons.”

The Reconnaissance General Bureau of North Korea is suspected of ordering the hit, the sources said. The bureau, responsible for the communist regime’s espionage operations, has also been suspected as the mastermind of the Cheonan sinking.

Intelligence authorities in the South and the United States are currently investigating if the bureau’s agents have entered South Korea by posing as defectors. Investigations are also ongoing to identify possible foreign assassins as well as South Koreans who have been recruited as spies.

While Kim Min-seok, Defense Ministry spokesman, refused to confirm or deny the North’s assassination order at a briefing yesterday, Grand National Party Representative Won Yoo-chul, chairman of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee, issued a statement yesterday condemning Pyongyang for its “direct threat to South Korea’s security and to peace on the peninsula.”

“If the North chooses to ignore our warning and makes an assassination attempt, we will make sure that Kim Jong-il’s dictatorial regime pays the price,” he said.

Democratic Party Representative Shin Hak-yong, another committee member, said the military must retaliate if the North attacks Kim.

Security measures for top government officials were also stepped up, including for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is visiting Korea this week. Security officials at the Blue House, National Assembly and Prime Minister’s Office said they were told to be on alert.

Kim reacted coolly to the JoongAng Ilbo report on the North’s assassination order, joking with his aides, “You guys may die while accompanying me,” sources present at the briefing said.

“He is a military man who has risked his life for his country his entire life,” said a ministry official. “He is not the kind of person to be afraid of the North’s threat. Although he reacted calmly and joked about it, he is still worried that the public may be concerned about it.”

Government officials said they believe the North ordered Kim’s assassination because of his hard-line attitude toward its provocations. President Lee Myung-bak appointed Kim to head the ministry shortly after the Yeonpyeong Island shelling in November for his charismatic leadership and expertise in field operations.

Since his confirmation hearing, Kim has made clear that North Korea is the South’s main enemy and said South Korea would retaliate against any future provocations from the communist regime.

The North has criticized Kim through its state media, calling him a “war maniac” and a “traitor.”

Pyongyang’s verbal threats to Kim reached a crescendo in June when South Korean media reported that portraits of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un were used as rifle targets by reservists. On June 6, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army vowed “practical and overall retaliatory military actions to wipe out the group of traitors at a stroke.” The Rodong Shinmun, meanwhile, called for the minister’s execution for “insulting the highest majesty of the North.”

North Korea has been known for its assassination attempts against South Korean officials. In 1983, North Korean agents carried out a bomb attack against then-President Chun Doo Hwan during a visit to Myanmar. While Chun was unharmed, 17 officials were killed in the attack, which was ordered by Kim Jong-il.

The North has also sent agents to the South to kill political enemies. Lee Han-young, nephew of Kim Jong-il’s ex-wife who defected to the South in 1982, was shot and killed by agents in front of his home in 1997.

Last April, two North Korean agents sent to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official to ever defect, were arrested. An investigation revealed that the Reconnaissance General Bureau was behind the project. Hwang, 87, died later that year at his home of natural causes.


By Ser Myo-ja, Namkoong Wook [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

방탄차 갈아탄 김관진 “나와 함께 다니면 큰일 날지 몰라” 농담

‘북한 암살조 침투’ 본지 보도 이후, 김 장관의 하루

김관진(62) 국방장관에 대한 북한의 암살 움직임이 중앙일보 보도를 통해 알려진 10일 오전 7시15분. 김 장관을 태운 승용차(구형 에쿠스)가 서울 한남동 장관 공관을 빠져나왔다. 그 뒤를 사복 차림의 헌병 3명을 태운 경호 차량이 바짝 따라붙었다. 용산 국방부 청사로의 출근길이다. 김 장관은 이날 예전부터 쓰던 예비용 차량을 다시 탔다. 두 달 전쯤 바꾼 신형 에쿠스의 사진이 공개됐기 때문이라고 한다.

국방부 당국자는 “장관 차량은 방탄시설이 돼 있어 외부 공격에도 견딜 수 있다”며 “장관 차량에 대해선 더 이상의 언급을 하지 말아달라”고 요청했다. 출근 동선은 9일과 달랐다고 한다. 장관 경호팀은 암살 첩보가 접수된 지난달부터 한남동 공관~국방부 출퇴근 동선을 수시로 바꿔왔다.

 7시30분. 국방부 청사에 도착한 김 장관은 곧바로 10층에 마련된 식당으로 향했다. 여느 때와 마찬가지로 주요 실·국장들과의 조찬간담회에 참석하기 위해서였다. 김 장관은 국내외 주요 언론 보도 내용과 북한군 동향, 주요 행사 등에 대한 보고를 받았다.

중앙일보 보도와 관련한 보고를 듣고선 “당신들 나와 함께 다니면 죽을지도 몰라”라며 농담 섞인 언급을 해 참석자들이 폭소를 터뜨렸다고 한다.

 간담회를 마친 김 장관은 2층 집무실로 자리를 옮겼다. 오전에 합동참모본부 간부들로부터 6일 시작하는 한·미 연합 을지프리덤가디언(UFG)연습 최종계획을 보고받았다. 국방부는 장관 일일 일정 배부처를 대폭 줄였다. 만약의 경우에 대비하기 위해서다. 당국자는 “장관 경호에 대해선 그때 그때 융통성 있게 변화시킨다”며 “외형적인 변화에 대해 일일이 언급할 수 없지만 요인 경호 훈련을 받은 헌병 에이스들이 충분히 보호할 수 있다”고 전했다. 경호가 강화됐지만 변화 내용에 대해선 자세히 언급하는 게 부적절하다는 것이다.

 김 장관은 정오쯤 국방부에 있는 국방회관으로 자리를 옮겼다. UFG연습을 참관하는 관찰단과의 오찬을 위해서였다. 국방회관 밖에는 평소에 보이지 않았던 경호원 3~4명이 주변을 경계하고 있었다. 식사는 중국식이었다. 소안심 샐러드 냉채, 매생이 해물수프, 생표고 새우요리, 한방전복, 송이관자, 삼선두반 짬뽕이 나왔다. 오찬을 끝낸 김 장관은 “사람들이 그(중앙일보) 보도를 보고 나서 나를 만나려 하질 않아. 나랑 다니면 죽는다고 생각하는지…”라며 기자에게 농담을 던지기도 했다.

 오후 1시를 넘어 북한이 연평도 인근 해상에 포 사격을 했다는 보고를 접한 김 장관은 정확한 상황 파악과 철저한 대응을 주문했다고 한다. 오후에는 참모들로부터 국방개혁과 관련한 보고를 받은 데 이어 김성찬 해군 참모총장과 현안을 논의한 뒤 청와대 만찬에 참석했다.

한 당국자는 “장관은 평생을 목숨을 내놓고 살아온 군인 출신인 만큼 북한의 위협에 굴복할 성격이 아니다”며 “다른 당국자들과 농담을 주고받을 정도로 여유를 보였지만 국민들이 보도를 보고 걱정하지 않을까 우려했다”고 귀띔했다.

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