Pyongyang Sends Spies into South Korea to Assassinate Defector

Should South Korea be more worried?

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Two North Koreans have been arrested in South Korea and are accused of entering the country to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, a former high-ranking North Korean official who defected more than a decade ago. This comes hard on the heels of a South Korean warship's unexplained sinking last month, which many believe to have been coordinated by the country's neighbors to the north.

Western commentators argue that the assassination attempt is not entirely surprising. One South Korean observer, however, worries that the South Korean government is not adequately addressing the threat of North Korean spies.

  • The Target: High-Value  'Hwang Jang-yop's defection," explains the London Times' Richard Lloyd Parry, "was a profound humiliation to the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, and came at a moment of intense crisis when hundreds of thousands, and perhaps, millions of North Koreans were dying of famine." Hwang had been the North's  "chief ideologue" and the man behind the North Korean philosophy of "self-reliance." Assassination of defectors seems to have precedent, too:  "A few days after Mr Hwang’s defection, Ri Han Yong, a nephew of Kim Jong Il's late wife, was shot dead in broad daylight, 15 years after defecting to Seoul."
  • Defectors in General 'Both a Threat and Opportunity for South Korea,' Parry continues in a followup analysis. Defectors can be, as these two spies turned out to be, false. Defectors are first interrogated for "several weeks" by South Korean intelligence officers, and then "spend three months in a halfway house called Hanawon, where they are taught skills for adapting to life in the South."
  • And Why Aren't We Dealing with the Threat?  Bemoaning South Koreans' "laid-back attitude ... to the North Korean threat," the editors of South Korean publication The Chosun Ilbo quote assassination target Hwang, who says "there are probably more agents somewhere out there whose mission is assassination."The editors' bottom line:
The government must take a careful look at whether there are more North Korean hit squads in the South, and whether Seoul has the will, ability and manpower to sniff them out.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.