South Korean court sentences 2 North Koreans to prison for plot to kill prominent defector

By Sangwon Yoon, AP
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2 NKoreans get prison terms for assassination plot

SEOUL, South Korea — Two North Korean army majors were sentenced to prison Thursday in South Korea for plotting to assassinate a high-profile defector who once mentored North Korea’s leader.

The Seoul Central District Court handed down 10-year sentences to each of the men after convicting them of violating South Korea’s National Security Law.

The defendants — Kim Myong Ho and Dong Myong Kwan — entered the packed courtroom under heavy security, handcuffed and wearing beige prison clothes. They have seven days to appeal the verdict.

They were arrested in Seoul in April for allegedly planning to kill Hwang Jang-yop, a former senior member of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party who defected to South Korea in 1997. North Korea has denied the assassination plot, accusing South Korea of staging it to intensify anti-Pyongyang sentiment.

The North Koreans posed as ordinary defectors and told investigators they were ordered to report back to Pyongyang on Hwang’s activities in Seoul and to prepare to “slit the betrayer’s throat,” prosecutors have said.

The 87-year-old Hwang, chief architect of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance, was one of the country’s most powerful officials when he fled in 1997 and had tutored leader Kim Jong Il on the ideology.

Since defecting, Hwang has lived in Seoul under tight police security. He has written books and delivered speeches condemning Kim’s government as authoritarian.

“The efforts to try to locate Hwang’s residence to plot to kill him … is a dangerous act undermining social security and order that must be condemned,” judge Cho Han-chang said.

The defendants did not speak throughout the trial, except when giving barely audible answers to the judge’s questions about their date of birth and place of origin. Their lips were pursed throughout the trial and they looked away from the proceedings.

The men were led away immediately after the verdict was read. Defendants normally are not given time or opportunity to comment on the verdict, court spokesman Kim Sang-woo said.

“If they disagree with the sentencing they can simply file an appeal,” Kim said.

The defendants confessed in their statements to having committed all of the acts they have been charged for and have since shown much remorse, the judge said.

“They have admitted to all of their crimes and even showed a human side, worrying about the safety of their families in North Korea,” Cho said.

High-profile defectors are believed to be key targets for assassination plots. In 1997, a nephew of one of Kim Jong Il’s former wives was killed outside a Seoul apartment, 15 years after defecting to the South. Officials never caught the assailants but believe they were North Korean agents.

Kim Jong Il reportedly has vowed revenge for Hwang’s defection.

The North Koreans made their way from Yanji, China, to Thailand posing as defectors. Thai authorities deported one to South Korea in January and the other in February, according to prosecutors.

The Koreas remain officially in a state of war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Tensions on the peninsula are running high following the sinking of a South Korean warship near their sea border in late March, killing 46 sailors. South Korea says North Korea sank the ship with a torpedo attack, an allegation the North denies.

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