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2008/12/19 18:43 KST
(2nd LD) S. Korean activist claims responsibility for spying in N. Korea

   By Kim Hyun
SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean activist on Friday claimed responsibility for spy activity that North Korea said it discovered, but denied the purpose was to assassinate leader Kim Jong-il.

   Pyongyang said it has arrested a North Korean man who was hired by South Korea's intelligence agency to "harm our leadership." South Korea's National Intelligence Service denied involvement.

   The alleged spy activity announced by the North's State Security Agency is "mostly true," while some parts are fabricated, said Choi Sung-yong, president of the Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea, a Seoul-based non-governmental group. The North Korean was one of his agents hired to gather information, he said.

   "It has nothing to do with the South Korean intelligence agency, but the incident itself is mostly true," Choi said.

   "I had engaged in those things or knew of them through my informants. The North's State Security Agency was announcing the result of its investigations spanning several years," Choi said.

   In a statement released Thursday, the North's agency said a Seoul intelligence official had intercepted a North Korean man, surnamed Ri, in the border region and trained him to collect information on leaders' activities. Ri later received a voice tracking device and even poison for assassination missions, it said.

   Pyongyang also claimed it has arrested other spies collecting soil, water, leaves and dirt to detect its nuclear activity.
The statement did not specifically name Kim Jong-il as the target, but "leadership" in Pyongyang generally refers to him and his top aides.
"It shows (the South Korean government), mad for confrontation with us, is recklessly reaching for unforgivable villainous scheme to harm our leadership on a dare," Pyongyang said.

   South Korean officials denied the accusation.

   "It has nothing to do with our agency," an official of the National Intelligence Service said over the telephone on condition of anonymity.

   Choi said all agents mentioned in Pyongyang's statement were his operatives. But he denied they attempted to kill the North Korean leader.

   "They didn't engage in terrorism. Is it possible for them to catch Kim Jong-il's whereabouts or attempt a terrorist attack against him? That's a fabrication," Choi said.

   He also said agents were gathering information about the North's military bases, not its nuclear activity.

   He argued the North's spy agency is trying to show its loyalty to Kim and also wants to tighten control of its people amid rumors of Kim's failing health and anti-Pyongyang flyers streaming in from South Korea.

   Inter-Korean relations have dramatically soured since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February. Lee's conservative government suspended food aid and demanded North Korea come clean on its nuclear ambitions and human rights conditions if it wants Seoul's assistance.

   North Korea retaliated by evicting hundreds of South Koreans at the joint industrial complex in its border town of Kaesong as of Dec 1. It also curtailed border traffic and halted South Korean tours to its mountain resort.
The North has warned further sanctions will follow if there's no change of attitude by the South.