Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

N Korean defector says end is not nigh for regime

AFP , WASHINGTON

High profile North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop said on Friday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's Stalinist regime is currently in no danger of collapse.

"When I left Pyongyang, I had predicted the regime would soon collapse, but the conditions changed and the regime continues as it is," Hwang told the Defense Forum Foundation here.

Assessing the demise of eastern European dictatorships as a loss of control and weakness in leadership there, North Korea's Kim had "reacted by strengthening the party and the military," he said.

Hwang, 80, who defected to South Korea in 1997 and is now a staunch opponent of Kim's repressive dictatorship, noted that policies of Washington and South Korea were important influences.

"My belief is that Kim Jong-il's regime should be eliminated and I hope US policy will help achieve that," he said. "I am not a fortune teller, it depends on how his regime behaves, [it] also depends on how unified and strong are the democratic regimes of South Korea and the US."

The former international secretary of the Workers Party also underlined how China's support of Kim Jong-il strengthened him in his regime.

"China's support helps keep Kim in power. Economically and politically, China is a very important ally to the regime. If these ties are severed, the collapse of North Korea would come sooner," he said.

In July 2002, he said, Kim "realized the country needed economic reform, even if [it was] limited."

But he noted that the introduction of market mechanisms was not necessarily a sign of a weakening regime. "Nazism or Japanese imperialism had allowed some economic freedoms, but the introduction of market mechanisms did not signify the fall of those regimes," said Hwang.

"Freedom of movement and exchange of information would be needed before the collapse of the regime," he continued. "There is no freedom to think."

"My strong sentiment is this regime is holding hostage its own people," Hwang added.

A top ideologist of the North Korean regime for 40 years, Hwang is the highest ranking official to have defected from North to South Korea.

During his 10-day visit here -- his first to the US since he fled North Korea -- he has met with deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and top US diplomat for Asia James Kelly.

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