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Rival parties clash over spy agency reform after Jang's execution

Rival political parties in South Korea clashed Monday over the scope of reforming the state spy agency's operations in the wake of the execution of North Korea's No. 2 man.

The ruling Saenuri Party said the National Intelligence Service (NIS)'s operations should be enhanced to effectively deal with the security uncertainties on the Korean Peninsula following the North's execution of Jang Song-thaek.

The once-powerful uncle and guardian of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was executed last Thursday immediately after a military tribunal found him guilty of treason. The sudden move was widely seen as an attempt to consolidate power around Kim.

"One thing that's clear from Jang Song-thaek's execution is that we don't know what Kim Jong-un will do next," Rep. Han Ki-ho of the ruling party said at a Supreme Council meeting. "Helping the NIS operate as it should is the most sensible way to prepare against sudden changes in the North."

Rep. Yoo Ki-june of the same party expressed concern that parliamentary efforts to reform the NIS could weaken the agency's intelligence capabilities with regard to the North and go against the South's security interests.

Reform of the NIS has been a key source of conflict between the rival parties amid opposition allegations that the agency and other government bodies meddled in last year's presidential race in favor of then ruling party candidate and now president, Park Geun-hye.

Last week, the NIS announced a set of self-reform measures to address opposition demands for a scale-back in its controversial domestic operations.

The measures, reported to a special parliamentary committee, call for the NIS to stop sending agents to monitor day-to-day activities of the National Assembly, political parties and news organizations, a practice that critics have denounced as unwarranted spying.

Kim Han-gil, chief of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), argued that the recent developments in North Korea highlight the need for reform of the NIS.

"The NIS must be born again as an NIS for the country, not for the administration," he said at a DP Supreme Council meeting. "The NIS must be made to stop intervening in politics and elections, and to concentrate on collecting foreign and North Korea-related intelligence." (Yonhap News)