N Korea’s assassination plans stalled

It’s no secret that refugees from North Korea’s oppressive government are streaming in droves to South Korea, looking for a place where they can speak freely and find enough food to subsist on. But we bet you didn’t know that every refugee seeking a safe haven in South Korea gets screened and interviewed by intelligence services upon arrival.

In a recent interview, the value of these efforts was confirmed, as the intelligence services were able to spot a couple of fake defectors, who were really North Korean spies. Their mission? To assassinate a defector who was once a senior official in North Korea’s government; indeed, he was the teacher of Kim Jong Il, the so-called “Supreme Leader” of present-day North Korea.

87-year-old Hwang Jang-yeop defected to South Korea in 1997. Given his once high ranking in Pyongyang’s government, his scathing critiques of North Korea have clearly hit a pretty sensitive nerve. He’s become more vocal on the international arena since the more conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak came into power in South Korea…when he defected, the government was going through a stage of reaching out to North Korea, trying to smooth out disagreements.

Obviously, the North decided it was time to fight Hwang’s words with fire. The two men charged with the mission of doing away with Hwang never got the chance to aim, however. Identified as spies upon arrival, the two men, both 36, confessed to their assassination mission.

No shock to Hwang, who knows there’s a price on his head. The location of his home is a carefully-guarded secret, and he lives under heavy police security.

Tensions mount, as North Korea employs terrorist tactics despite the so-called truce that has existed between the two countries for over 50 years. Many in South Korea believe that the sinking of a naval vessel last month – and the subsequent death of 46 sailors – was the North’s doing. Although this suspicion has yet to be confirmed by investigation, the ship went down due to an external explosion close to a maritime border that the North disputes.

Other attacks attributed to the North – though never admitted to – include the bombing of a Korean Air plane in 1987 that killed 115 people, and a bombing in Burma in 1983 that killed three South Korean cabinet officials.

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