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‘North plotting to assassinate defense chief’

Security measures have been beefed up after an intelligence tip-off that North Korea is trying to assassinate South Korea’s defense chief, local media reported Wednesday.

The reports, citing unnamed sources at the government, said that the authorities in the South received an intelligence tip-off that the communist North is after Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.

“The defense minister is a key official and we’re always keeping close tabs on his security,” one source said. “When he has to leave the office for functions and other commitments, we do take extra care.”

Another source said military and intelligence officials are trying to determine the number of would-be assassins, and whether they are North Korean agents sent by Pyongyang or foreign nationals who entered the South from a third country under a North Korean order. The source said the assassins could also be North Korean agents already stationed in the South.

The Defense Ministry declined to confirm the reports.

“We do not comment on intelligence matters or the security service procedure,” Kim Min-seok, the spokesperson, said.

According to reports, the minister has been escorted by armed military police officers in plain clothes when venturing outside his office.

Since assuming the post last December, Kim has taken a tough stance on North Korea for its deadly acts in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans. The former Army general has called on South Korean forces to respond immediately to future North Korean provocations.

North Korea, in a June 3 statement, called for an immediate action to “execute” Kim and other South Korean military “rogues.”

Last year, Seoul had aborted an assassination plot against the late Hwang Jang-yup, the highest-ranking communist official to have defected from North Korea. It arrested the two men, who later admitted pretending to be defectors with a secret mission to kill Hwang.

In February 1997, a high-profile defector was assassinated in a town near Seoul. Lee Han-Young, a nephew of Sung Hye-Rim, the deceased first wife of leader Kim Jong-il, was shot dead outside his apartment in Bundang, after breaking his long silence about Kim’s private life.

By Lee Sun-young  (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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