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2008/12/25 13:30 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 35 (December 25, 2008)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Pyongyang Claims Seoul Plotted against North Korean Leader

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In another sign of deepening confrontation with the South, Pyongyang announced on Dec. 18 that it arrested a North Korean they claim was involved in a plot to assasinate state leader Kim Jong-il under orders from a South Korean intelligence agency.

   A spokesman for North Korea's State Security Ministry said in a statement that a person with the surname Ri was arrested while carrying out a "terrorist mission ordered by a South Korean puppet intelligence-gathering organization to do harm to the safety of the top leader of the DPRK." DPRK is the abbreviation for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   The statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) did not specifically name Kim Jong-il as the target, though the term "leadership" is commonly understood to refer to Kim and his top aides. "It shows (the South Korean government), mad for confrontation, is recklessly embarking on an unforgivable villainous scheme to harm our leadership," Pyongyang said.

   In the statement, a spokesman for the North's security agency insisted that Ri illegally crossed the inter-Korean border into the South earlier this year and was intercepted by a South Korean intelligence agent surnamed Hwang.

   The South's National Intelligence Service later sent Ri back to the North after training him to gather information about the timing and schedule of Kim Jong-il's field guidance visits, said the statement.

   Ri later received a voice tracking device and even poison for assassination missions, it said. "The organization also supplied him with speech and acoustic sensing and pursuit devices for tracking the movements of the top leader and even violent poison in the end."

  "This case goes to prove the length that the South Korean puppets have gone to in resorting to thrice-cursed methods to dare harm the headquarters of the DPRK, and are hell-bent on inciting confrontation with the DPRK."

  Pyongyang also claimed it arrested other spies sent from the South to collect soil, water, leaves and dirt samples used in detecting the extent of the North's nuclear activity.

   Claiming the group of South Koreans sent to sabotage the DPRK proves that Seoul has reached an extremely reckless and dangerous phase, the North's agency said, "all the intelligence-gathering and plot-breeding organs in South Korea are now locked in a non-shooting war against the DPRK."

  "Recently, secret agents were routed while in the DPRK to collect environmental samples... in major munitions and industrial areas in order to gather nuclear-related information," the spokesman said.

   The statement also claimed that North Korean authorities foiled an attempt to gather party, state and military secrets and to lure officials working in sensitive areas into defecting by enlisting a female Korean resident in China to act as a spy. The woman was ordered to pay private visits to officials in order to gather information and to urge them to defect, the statement insisted.

   The KCNA report also said the ministry exposed and frustrated a plot to form a secret "underground church" with an eye to rallying dishonest and hostile elements under the guise of religion. Other plots mentioned included luring or abducting ex-convicts and corrupt elements and coaxing them into defecting in a bid to set up a "center" for fabricating misinformation about "human rights abuses" in North Korea.

   The statement also noted "anti-DPRK broadcasting services and the anti-North leaflet-scattering movement," the latter referring to South Korean civic groups that have been flying balloons filled with leaflets denouncing the North Korean regime over the inter-Korean border. The report claimed the groups are financed by the "puppet (South Korean) authorities" and have become more frantic in their operations.

   The spokesman said Seoul's "anti-North Korean moves" that have reached "an extremely reckless and dangerous phase" were the reason behind the North's decision to issue the statement. It comes amid frozen inter-Korean relations that have worsened since the launch of the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in February.

   The Lee administration suspended food aid after taking office and demanded North Korea come clean on its nuclear ambitions and human rights conditions in return for Seoul's continued assistance. Tensions also increased following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at a mountain resort in the North.

   North Korea retaliated recently by evicting hundreds of South Koreans at a joint industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong on Dec 1. It also curtailed border traffic and halted South Korean tours to its Mt. Kumgang resort. The North has warned further sanctions will follow barring any change of attitude by the South.

   South Korean intelligence officials, meanwhile, have denied the North's accusations. "It has nothing to do with our agency," an official of the National Intelligence Service said in a phone interview on condition of anonymity.

   That assertion, however, runs counter to statements from a South Korean activist who claimed responsibility on Dec. 19 for spy activity that North Korea says it uncovered. The activist denied involvement in a plot assassinate Kim Jong-il.

   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 who was captured recently was one of Choi's agents and was 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 acknowledged. "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.

   He added that all agents mentioned in Pyongyang's statement were his operatives, but he denied any attempt 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 insisted that agents were gathering information about the North's military bases, not its nuclear activity, and argued the North's spy agency was trying to show its loyalty to Kim while attempting to tighten control of its people amid rumors of Kim's failing health.

   Experts in Seoul said that there is no way of confirming the verity of the claims by Pyongyang as previous false accusations had frequently been made by the North in the past.

   The accusations are unusual, however, since for the past 10 years the North has not made any direct denunciation of Seoul's spying activities. In September of last year, the North disclosed an espionage case involving an outside intelligence organization but did not name the specific country involved. This time, the North has clearly named the South Korean intelligence agency, a sign of the North's growing hostility toward the South Korean government.

   Other experts say the North's announcement is an indication that it is employing all possible means to pressure the South to abandon its confrontational policy toward Pyongyang.

   In past months, the North has stepped up its criticism of the South which it claims is trying to provoke another war.

   On Dec. 23, a senior North Korean military official warned against the slightest move by U.S. and South Korean forces towards a preemptive strike would be countered with a "more rapid and powerful advanced preemptive strike."

  The statement also signals a warning towards the North's own residents, guarding against possible internal conflict that could arise from widespread rumors regarding the health of Kim Jong-il.

   Kim is believed to be in poor health since reportedly suffering a stroke in August. North Korea experts say Pyongyang hopes to prevent internal tension that could arise from the leader's illness, as well as showing the outside world that Kim is well enough to lead the country domestically and in diplomacy with foreign countries.

  (END)