Pyongyang holds two South Koreans for spying

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Pyongyang holds two South Koreans for spying


A man watches a TV channel reporting the arrests in North Korea of South Koreans Kim Kuk-gi, left, and Choe Chun-gil at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on Friday. South Korea urged North Korea to immediately release its citizens detained on espionage charges, the latest in a series of arrests in the North of foreign nationals. The letters read “Detained Kim Kuk-gi, Choe Chun-gil.” [AP/NEWSIS]

Seoul called on Pyongyang on Friday to release two South Koreans detained in the North for alleged espionage, saying all accusations directed against them were not true.

Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol refuted Pyongyang’s accusations reported in the North’s state-run media earlier in the day that the two, identified as Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil, spied on the Communist state for the South’s spy agency in the Chinese border city of Dandong and called for their immediate release.

“We find it very regrettable that the North is holding two South Koreans in their custody without any prior consultation with our government and is making groundless accusations,” said the spokesman during a press briefing Friday.

Speaking on behalf of the government, he also called on the North to allow the two to meet with lawyers and treat the case in accordance with international legal norms. Most importantly, the government called for their immediate release from custody, saying an investigation into what Pyongyang describes as espionage could proceed once the two return to the South.

While acknowledging the two men are indeed South Korean citizens, the spokesman did not say how the two ended up being caught by the North, nor what exactly they were doing in Dandong before their arrest last year. The National Intelligence Service, which the North accused of giving orders to the men, also denied the spying allegations.

The government’s demand Friday came less than a day after the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on a press conference organized by Pyongyang’s Ministry of State Security Thursday, in which the two somber-looking South Korean men appeared sitting next to North Korean guards.

The KCNA quoted an unnamed official of the state security ministry at the conference as saying the two are “heinous terrorists who worked hard to do harm to the supreme leadership of the DPRK.” DPRK is an acronym of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

The official was also quoted as saying that the two “zealously took part in the anti-DPRK smear campaign of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet group of traitors to isolate and blockade the DPRK in the international arena.” The North usually refers to the South Korean government as the puppet group of Washington in its rhetoric.

He said Kim, 61, confessed to operating an underground church in Dandong from 2003 and spreading religious propaganda. The North accused him of having “gathered important state secrets related to the supreme leadership”.

The KCNA quoted Choe, 56, as saying he was arrested last December by North Korean border security guards while trying to smuggle jewelry out of the North to China. How Kim was arrested was not reported.

With Kim and Choi in custody, the number of South Koreans detained in the North is now three. A church missionary named Kim Jeong-wook has been detained since October 2013.

The Unification Ministry tried to request the prisoners’ release via fax, but the North refused to accept its delivery.

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