South Korean lawmakers criticized the government for failing to know about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s death until it was announced two days later, putting pressure on intelligence chief Won Sei-hoon to resign.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s government first heard about Kim’s death on Saturday when it was broadcast on North Korean state television on Monday. Lee attended a party given by his staff to celebrate his birthday, wedding anniversary and election four hours before the announcement.
Won, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, must be held accountable for his ignorance of Kim’s death, lawmakers said yesterday.
Lee’s defense minister quit last year amid criticism of the response to a deadly North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island
“There have been quite a few cases where this government made diplomacy and security appointments regardless of the candidates’ expertise,” Kwon Young-se, a member of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and chairman of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, told CBS Radio.
“Unlike other areas, one mistake in diplomacy and security can threaten the country’s existence,” he said.
Won must resign for his “unacceptable” ignorance and poor management of the agency “extraordinary” budget, Park Young-sun, a member of the opposing Liberty Forward Party, said in an interview.
South Korea responded to Kim’s death and the naming of his son Kim Jong-un as successor by raising the military and civilian cyber alerts one notch above their standard default levels.
Former South Korean foreign minister Han Sung-joo yesterday said in an interview on Bloomberg Television that North Korea was stable and a collapse of the totalitarian state unlikely.
Kim Jong-un, thought to be in his late 20s, is a “figurehead,” while his uncle Jang Song-thaek and military leader Ri Yong-ho are in charge, Han said.
“The situation is pretty much in control,” he said.
The uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula comes as public discontent over Lee and his party’s administration of an economy buffeted by inflation and income disparity.
The GNP lost the Seoul mayoral race in October and senior lawmakers resigned from their party leadership posts earlier this month, adding to turmoil ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections next year.
Meanwhile, South Korean civic groups and North Korean defectors yesterday launched balloons carrying propaganda leaflets into the North.
Ten balloons were sent, carrying 200,000 leaflets criticizing the North for naming Kim Jong-un to succeed his father as leader, said Park Sang-hak, a leader of the Fighters For Free North Korea.
His Seoul-based group and others released the balloons in two batches in Imjingak, about 40km north of Seoul, Park said by telephone.
The leaflets also contained news of the Arab Spring popular revolts.
“Rise up people. Fight bravely like the Africans to end the third-generation succession,” the leaflets read.
The gas-filled balloons have timing devices to scatter the leaflets.
Additional reporting by AFP