Prosecutors arrest SKorean man for allegedly spying for NKorea, kidnapping activists

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP
Sunday, April 11, 2010

Prosecutors arrest SKorean for spying for NKorea

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean man has been arrested for allegedly spying for Pyongyang and working with its military to kidnap activists who helped North Koreans defect, officials said Monday.

The 55-year-old man, who was arrested last week and who denies the charges, is accused of taking up the spy job after meeting a female North Korean agent in 1999 in China’s eastern Shandong province, where he was believed to be engaged in drug trafficking, the official said on condition of anonymity because an investigation was ongoing.

The man, surnamed Kim, allegedly traveled to Pyongyang in 2000 for 15 days of spy training and received $10,000 and 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of narcotics from the North, the official said.

The suspect was sent back to China and started abducting South Korean activists who were helping North Koreans defect from their impoverished, authoritarian homeland. The kidnapped Koreans were sent to the North in cooperation with the female agent, the official said.

The man also kidnapped North Korean defectors hiding in China and forced them back to the North. He also tried to gather information on South Korean intelligence officers operating in Chinese towns near North Korea, the official said.

Prosecution spokesman Oh Se-in confirmed the man’s arrest, saying he allegedly violated the National Security Law, which carries the death penalty as a maximum sentence. The suspect denied the charges, Oh said.

Oh declined to disclose how many activists and defectors the man has allegedly kidnapped.

Activists claim tens of thousands of North Koreans live in hiding in China after fleeing the North to avoid a harsh political system, poverty and chronic food shortages. If repatriated, they could face severe punishment such as forced labor and years in prison, experts and activists say.

An undisclosed number of South Korean activists and missionaries also secretly operate in China to smuggle North Koreans from their homeland and shelter and feed defectors before they take refuge in South Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

The man was arrested Thursday while making a temporary visit to South Korea, the official said.

The two Koreas remain in a state of war, divided by a heavily fortified border, because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. More than 18,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the war’s end, with most of them coming via China.

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