North Korea has sent secret agents to South Korea to try to assassinate its defense minister, who has vowed a stern response to attacks from the totalitarian state, media reports said yesterday. The South Korean defense ministry said it could not confirm the reports, but added that security for South Korean Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin has not been strengthened recently.
North Korea has previously sent secret agents to assassinate high-profile defectors who settled in the south. However, there have been no reports in recent years that top officials were being targeted.
JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said US and South Korean intelligence had been tipped off about a team sent to kill the minister and were trying to track it down.
“It’s not known whether the North has sent its own agents, hired foreigners from a third country or assigned the mission to its spies already operating in the South,” the paper quoted one unidentified Seoul official as saying. “But it is a definite fact that a team aiming to assassinate minister Kim is operating on the orders of the North.”
Yonhap news agency, quoting government sources, also reported an apparent plot against Kim.
Defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said he could not confirm reports of tip-offs to intelligence services. He said key defense officials had been receiving protection “for quite some time” and there had been “no significant changes” in the level of that protection.
Kim Kwan-jin has called for a strong response to the North’s attacks since taking office last December in the wake of Pyongyang’s shelling of a border island that killed four South Koreans. In March, he ordered soldiers to “shoot first and report later” if attacked.
The North’s state media has described him as a “traitor” and “warmonger.” Its ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in June that Kim Kwan-jin should be “executed immediately” after it emerged that some South Korean troops were using photos of the North’s ruling family as rifle-range targets.