Pyongyang’s brazen threat

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Pyongyang’s brazen threat

North Korea has threatened to kill four South Koreans who have been in the forefront of movements for democratization and human rights in the reclusive country.

In a Tuesday statement, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a North Korean agency handling affairs with South Korea, identified the targets of the threat: human rights activist Kim Young-hwan; Cho Myung-chul, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party and former head of the Institute for Unification Education; Kim Song-min, founder and president of Free North Korea Radio; and Park Sang-hak, leader of Fighters for Free North Korea.

The threat is aimed at punishing them - allegedly for trying to lure and kidnap North Koreans - unless Seoul apologizes for a supposed attempt to destroy a statue of Kim Il Sung and applies severe consequences.

That’s brazen blackmail.

Pyongyang claims some of the four conspired to demolish Kim’s statue, branding it as a “state’s mega-sized political terror against our supreme leader.” The truth remains unclear, as the activists tell a different story.

That suggests Pyongyang exaggerated and distorted the case to divert attention from the activists’ efforts to enhance human rights conditions in the North.

Kim Young-hwan was tortured after his arrest for his anti-North activities in China. Pyongyang might have felt betrayed by his transformation from worshiper of North Korea’s juche (self-reliance) ideology to outspoken critic of the regime.

The other three might be especially vexing because they are defectors who took the lead in criticizing Pyongyang.

Regardless, Pyongyang’s attempt at blackmail is a grave challenge to our sovereignty.

North Korea’s threat is not to be taken lightly: remember the tragic death in 1997 of Lee Han-Young, a nephew of Sung Hye-Rim - the deceased first wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Lee was shot dead outside his apartment in the South after defecting to Seoul through Switzerland in 1982.

A North Korean spy was also sentenced for having attempted to assassinate Park Sang-hak, who leads a campaign to distribute propaganda leaflets in the North.

The government must not lower its guard to protect the four.

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