(Mark Willacy, ABC Radio Australia) South Korea’s spy agency has arrested a man allegedly sent by North Korea to assassinate an anti-Pyongyang activist with a poison-tipped needle. The alleged North Korean agent has been identified only as a man in his 40s known as An.
An is a former special forces commando who supposedly defected to the South more than a decade ago. But recently he asked to meet outspoken anti-Pyongyang activist and defector Park Sang-Hak. After a tip-off from South Korean intelligence agents, Mr Park said he did not show up for the meeting, which was supposed to be held at a subway station in southern Seoul on September 3.
“An told me by phone that he was to be accompanied by a visitor from Japan who wants to help our efforts. But then I was told by the NIS not to go to the meeting due to the risk of assassination,” Mr Park said. “Following advice from intelligence authorities and police, I don’t see any strangers these days.”
Instead An was arrested at the rendezvous point, allegedly carrying a poison-tipped needle and other weapons that investigators believe he was going to use to kill Mr Park. South Korea’s intelligence agency says it will not comment on cases under investigation.
Mr Park is a former North Korean defector who along with other activists sends thousands of anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, sparking angry protests from North Korea. It has threatened to fire across the border at launch sites for the towering gas balloons that carry the leaflet bundles. Recent leaflets have urged North Koreans to rise up “like Libyan rebels” and topple the regime.
North Korea has a history of trying to silence critics in the South. In January a court jailed a North Korean spy for 10 years for plotting to assassinate the highest-ranking defector ever to flee to the South. The court said the would-be assassin intended to murder Hwang Jang-Yop on orders from Pyongyang, after entering the South posing as a defector.
Mr Hwang died of natural causes at his closely guarded Seoul home last October aged 87. In July last year, two other North Korean spies were sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting to murder Mr Hwang.
In 1997 Lee Han-Young, a nephew of Sung Hye-Rim – the deceased first wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il – was shot dead outside his apartment in South Korea. Mr Lee, who had lived in the South for 15 years, was murdered after breaking his long silence about Kim’s private life.