Joined: 17 Jan 2011
|Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:06 pm Post subject: S Korea bureaucrat charged with spying
|S Korea bureaucrat charged with spying
A bureaucrat in Seoul’s city government has been charged with spying for North Korea, after what appears to be an unusual breach of the South Korean civil service.
The arrest comes ahead of next month’s inauguration of Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s next president, who has promised to build trust and co-operation with the north.
The 33-year-old official – originally from North Korea – is accused of passing the details of more than 10,000 fellow defectors to Pyongyang’s security services. The arrest on January 11 of the man, identified only as Mr Yu, was first reported on Monday by Seoul’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper, and subsequently confirmed by a South Korean intelligence official.
Mr Yu fled North Korea in 2004 after briefly working as a surgeon in the impoverished northeast, where most defectors hail from. He adjusted to the South better than many compatriots, attending university and working for a trading company before taking a job in 2011 with the Seoul metropolitan government, where he helped to oversee support for North Korean defectors.
The claim that a trusted official had passed data to Pyongyang would not help the “paranoia” suffered by some of the nearly 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the south, said Kim Sang-hun, chairman of the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights.
“Many North Koreans here feel that the whole North Korean apparatus is after them,” he said. “But I’ve normally found that groundless . . . I don’t believe North Korea is that much interested,” he added, noting that Mr Yu could have been acting under his own volition rather than on orders from Pyongyang.
North Korean activity in South Korea is less conspicuous than during the cold war years, when its agents made repeated attempts to murder former leaders Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-Hwan. But the two countries remain technically at war, and South Korean agents study defectors for up to three months after their arrival in an effort to weed out spies.
“There’s been a long history of [North Korea] sending people,” said Daniel Pinkston, an analyst at the International Crisis Group in Seoul. “And with the increasing number of defectors coming here . . . the likelihood of somebody doing espionage is going to rise.”
From the beginning of the last decade, the number of defectors increased sharply, after the famine of the mid- to late 1990s damaged morale in North Korea and left weakened state institutions struggling to prevent the phenomenon. There are no reliable figures for the number of people who crossed into China but did not reach South Korea. But the annual number of northerners entering the South peaked at 2,927 in 2009, compared with a cumulative total of just 607 between the Korean war and 1989.
However, human rights activists say that it has become more difficult to escape since Kim Jong-eun took power just over a year ago, with tougher measures against bribe-taking border guards, and new fences and camera systems on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. Only 1,508 defectors arrived in South Korea last year.