Gov’t vows to protect citizens from kidnapping

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Gov’t vows to protect citizens from kidnapping

The South Korean government said Monday it is bolstering measures to protect its overseas nationals from kidnapping or any other acts of terror by North Korea.

Jeong Joon-hee, the South’s Ministry of Unification spokesman, said in a briefing on Monday, “We are watching closely the possibility of North Korea kidnapping or conducting acts of terror against our overseas citizens.”

He added, “We are making assurances for the personal safety of our people,” which includes issuing a statement on strengthening security to overseas South Koreans.

The ministry responded to reports Sunday by local media that Pyongyang, in retaliation for a group of 13 North Korean restaurant workers who defected last month, plans to kidnap a large number of South Koreans.

The defectors included one male manager and 12 female employees, and they testified that North Korean restaurants have reportedly been facing difficulty getting customers following a UN Security Council resolution passed in March imposing the toughest-ever sanctions on Pyongyang for its recent nuclear and missile tests.

The reports said that the targets can include South Koreans overseas, soldiers and agents, although Jeong said that such reports could not be confirmed. Those who live along the border between China and North Korea are thought to be especially vulnerable, including activists who help defectors escape.

On Saturday, a Korean-Chinese pastor surnamed Han, who was reportedly active in helping defectors, was found dead in Jilin Province, near China’s border with North Korea, with knife wounds in his body, according to South Korean media Monday. Some media reports raised speculation that he may have been killed by North Korea agents. Han reportedly worked for a church in Changbai County in the northeastern Jilin Province, where he had been assisting North Korean defectors since 1993.

Choi Sung-yong, head of the civic organization Come Back Home, told local media on Monday that he heard from sources that “three North Korean agents came over [to Jilin Province] and killed the pastor, returning back to North Korea afterward.”

Chinese authorities are investigating the cause of Han’s death after his body was found in the border mountains.

The Unification Ministry also said “there are currently no signs” of Pyongyang conducting a fifth nuclear test ahead of the seventh congress of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, the first meeting of its kind in almost 40 years, scheduled for Friday. But he added that the government is prepared for all possibilities.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense added that there is a possibility that North Korea could conduct another nuclear test and fire a medium or long-range missile around the date of its congress.

Moon Sang-gyun, Defense Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing on Monday, “Taking into consideration North Korean’s intention and actions, we see there is a possibility that there will be an additional nuclear test, or Musudan missile launch.” He added that the military is keeping a defense-readiness posture.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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