Detainee in North Korea claims NIS assisted him

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Detainee in North Korea claims NIS assisted him

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Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean Baptist missionary, speaks yesterday during a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea.

PYONGYANG - A South Korean Baptist missionary who was arrested more than four months ago on suspicion of trying to establish underground Christian churches in North Korea told reporters yesterday that he is sorry for his “anti-state” crimes and appealed to North Korean authorities to show him mercy by releasing him from their custody.

Kim Jung-wook told a news conference held in Pyongyang yesterday that he was arrested in early October after entering the North from China and trying to make his way to Pyongyang with Bibles, Christian instructional materials and films. He said he received assistance from South Korea’s intelligence agency.

Kim said he was unsure what punishment he would face. He asked for the mercy of North Korean authorities and requested the media show his family that he is in good health. He also claimed that he was arrested on Oct. 8, the day after he crossed into the North.

Kim, in his first public appearance since his arrest, said he had met numerous times with South Korean intelligence officials before crossing into the North from Dandong, China, and claimed he had received thousands of dollars from them for his service.

He also said he wanted to go into North Korea to establish a series of underground churches to spread Christianity there.

“I was thinking of turning North Korea into a religious country, and destroying its present government and political system,” he said. “I received money from the intelligence services and followed instructions from them, and arranged North Koreans to act as their spies.

“And I also set up an underground church in China, in Dandong, and got the members to talk and write for me to collect details about the reality of life in North Korea; and I provided this to the intelligence services.”

At the news conference, Kim said his actions constituted a crime against North Korea’s state and called himself a “criminal.” He added that he has not been mistreated during his incarceration.

In the past, however, similar statements have been recanted once prisoners have been let go.

North Korea’s state media reported in November that the country had arrested a South Korean spy.

But South Korea’s top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, denied it had sent such an agent to the North, calling the allegation “a groundless claim.”

South Korea called for the identification of the alleged South Korean spy that Pyongyang claimed to have detained last November, though the regime refused that demand.

Following the press conference, the South Korean government officially confirmed Kim’s identity and called his detention “an anti-humanitarian act.”

“We think it is regrettable for North Korea to unilaterally detain one of our citizens without any prior explanation,” Kim Eui-do, the spokesman of South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, said at a briefing yesterday. “Our government strongly calls for the immediate release of our citizen and his repatriation to our side.”

The news of the South Korean detainee came in the midst of rising expectations that inter-Korean relations, strained for years, could be thawing, especially after reunions were held last week for families from both sides separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Amid a conciliatory mood, South Korea has proposed offering medicine and vaccines to North Korea, which is currently plagued by foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious virus that can kill livestock.

South Korea also called for low-level government talks after the reunions to discuss the assistance.

“For the release of the missionary, a negotiation with Pyongyang would likely be held,” Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“In that case, North Korea could try to use the case as a bargaining chip to earn something they want, such as the resumption of the Mount Kumgang tours or the food and assistance from South Korea.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN, AP [heejin@joongang.co.kr]




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