South Korean police said yesterday they had tightened security for a high-ranking North Korean defector after authorities arrested two alleged spies from the North for plotting to assassinate him.
The move came a day after prosecutors said the two elite North Korean military officers, entering South Korea in the guise of defectors, had tried to kill Hwang Jang-yop.
Hwang, the architect of the North Korean regime’s ideology of juche, or self-reliance, was once secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party and a tutor to leader Kim Jong-il.
He defected in 1997 during a visit to Beijing, becoming the highest-ranking official to flee the hardline communist state.
The 87-year-old now lives under guard at a secret address in South Korea to forestall any attempts by the North to assassinate him.
While cloak-and-dagger plots are not new in the rivalry between the North and South, the attempt to kill Hwang comes as tensions have risen after the mysterious sinking of a South Korean naval ship near the countries’ border.
Prosecutors said the spies secretly entered Thailand in December through China and were sent to South Korea separately in January and February.
They allegedly admitted they had received a direct order in November from Colonel-General Kim Yong-chol, head of the North’s main military espionage unit, to kill Hwang.
The confession came during a cross-examination by genuine defectors who found the spies were lying about their background in the communist country, the South’s National Intelligence Service said.
The North Koreans, identified as Kim and Tong, both 36, had been trained as spies since 2004, it said.
Hwang, who has received regular death threats, reacted nonchalantly to the latest case, saying it was unworthy of his attention, his aide told Yonhap news agency yesterday.
The North’s official Web site Uriminzokkiri issued a commentary on April 5 threatening Hwang with death over his criticism of the Pyongyang regime.
“You must not forget traitors have always been slaughtered with knives,” it said.
The commentary, which followed trips by Hwang to the US and Japan, described him as a “traitor and human scum” and said he had “viciously slandered our dignity and system” during his trips.
South Korea has not blamed North Korea for last month’s sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette, but on Tuesday said that nuclear disarmament talks with the North could not resume if the communist state was found responsible.
Yesterday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak avoided directly blaming the North but said the sinking was a wake-up call to the realities of living next door to the world’s “most belligerent” state.