North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Sunday paid a visit to the reconnaissance division of the country’s army which is at the center of widespread suspicions here over a possible North Korean attack against the South Korean Navy ship that mysteriously sank on March 26.
The North Korean state media said on April 25, the founding day of the country’s army, that Kim visited the commanding headquarters of “Unit 586.”
“Unit 586” is another name used in official occasions for the Reconnaissance Bureau of the Korean People’s Army which is known as the heart of North Korea’s international espionage activities and acts of terrorism, according to South Korean officials.
The North’s state broadcaster on Monday disclosed photos of Kim’s visit to Unit 586 in which Kim Young-chol, chief of the Reconnaissance Bureau, is shown clapping next to Kim Jong-il, who serves as the chairman of the National Defense Commission.
The Reconnaissance Bureau is one of the KPA’s three most powerful organs. The bureau is an integration of the reconnaissance department of the North Korean defense ministry, the “operations department” which developed infiltration routes for secret agents and “Room 35” in charge of international intelligence under the Workers’ Party.
It was Kim Jong-il’s first reported visit to the Reconnaissance Bureau, drawing attention to why he chose to visit the bureau on the founding day of the KPA.
Kim had only watched an arts performance by the former reconnaissance department in 2005.
The Reconnaissance Bureau is known for allegedly having ordered the assassination of former Workers’ Party secretary Hwang Jang-yop who defected to South Korea in 1997.
The two North Koreans who recently confessed to their assassination mission during questioning by the South Korean National Intelligence Service said they received the order from Kim Young-chol, chief of the Reconnaissance Bureau.
Kim Young-chol is an exemplary hardliner within the North Korean military who said the Northern Limit Line was “drawn by a thief” at the general-level talks between the Koreas in 2006 and 2007. He also led the North’s decision to restrict South Koreans’ border crossing in December 2008.
Amid increasing suspicions over North Korean involvement in the Cheonan’s sinking, a South Korean online outlet reported that a Workers’ Party staff member claimed that the KPA recently took “revenge” on South Korea.
Citing a source from North Hamgyeong Province, the Daily N.K. said that “revenge” was mentioned during a regular “ideology education” session at a local factory.
The Internet media said that although the South Korean Navy ship’s sinking was not directly mentioned, this confirmed widespread rumors in the North about the incident.
North Korea holds weekly sessions in companies and factories to explain about the Workers’ Party policies and major political developments, using materials published by the Workers’ Party.
The Daily N.K. also said that “seven out of ten North Koreans are aware of the South Korean Navy vessel’s sinking and most of them believe it was sunk by the North Korean navy,” citing more North Korean sources near the border with China, to whom they occasionally speak on the phone.
The North is not taking any specific measures to block such rumors, so it seems like the North is propagandizing its “military achievement” to its people while externally denying involvement, the Daily N.K. said.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com