A South Korean court yesterday passed 10-year prison sentences on two North Korean agents who posed as fugitives from the communist state in a bid to assassinate a senior defector.
“The defendants admit all the charges and testimony from other defectors, and former agents verified their statements” about their identities and mission, senior judge Cho Han-chang said.
“Had the defendants succeeded in taking root here, they would have posed a very serious threat to Hwang’s [Jang-uup] life,” Cho said.
The agents, handcuffed and wearing khaki prison outfits, appeared calm when the sentences were read out. North Korea has denied involvement in the bid to assassinate Hwang, accusing Seoul of inventing the story to fuel tensions between the neighbors.
Hwang, architect of the Pyongyang regime’s ideology of juche, or self-reliance, was once secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party and a tutor to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
He defected in 1997 during a visit to Beijing, becoming the highest-ranking official to flee the hardline state, and now lives under guard in the South at a secret address.
The judge said Hwang’s defection symbolized the supremacy of the South’s system over the communist North and his assassination would have damaged the country’s democratic order.
The pair, both aged 36 and identified as Kim Myong-ho and Tong Myong-kwan, joined the North’s communist party in 1998 and were selected as agents in 2004.
In November, the two army majors received orders directly from the North’s military intelligence head, Kim Yong-chol, to kill Hwang, the court said.
The pair arrived in South Korea in January in the guise of defectors. However, their fake IDs were revealed during routine questioning by intelligence authorities soon afterwards.
Prosecutors said fabrications about their birthplaces, home towns and educational background came to light through cross-examination and from testimony by genuine defectors.
Prosecutors had requested 15-year terms.
Cho, citing mitigating circumstances, said the defendants were born in a communist country and selected for training as agents, thus “had no choice but to follow orders.”
“After their real identities were exposed, the defendants admitted they were agents and began cooperating with the investigation,” the judge said.
“Hoping that the defendants will accept and endorse the [South’s] free democratic system and settle down here when they complete serving prison terms, the court orders 10 years in prison for each of the defendants,” Cho said.
Despite the North’s denials of involvement in the assassination plot, its official Web site Uriminzokkiri on April 5 threatened Hwang with death over his criticism of the Pyongyang regime during trips to the US and Japan.
Hwang, now 87, “will not be safe anywhere,” the Web site said. “You must not forget traitors have always been slaughtered with knives.”
Also yesterday, Seoul rejected Pyongyang’s proposal for direct military talks on the sinking of a warship, saying the matter should be handled under the armistice, which ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Tensions have been high since the South, citing findings of a multinational probe, accused the North of torpedoing a corvette with the loss of 46 sailors near the disputed sea border.
“The [Seoul] government should focus on discussions at the [UN] Security Council,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said in response to a new offer by Pyongyang to hold inter-Korean talks on the ship.
“It is more appropriate to hold general-level talks between the United Nations Command and North Korea’s military and address the issue within the framework of the armistice agreement,” he said.
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