North Korea spy takes suicide pill

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South Korea announced it has arrested several members of a North Korean spy ring. The spies' assignments throw light on the North's continuing obsession with overthrowing the South

South Korea's intelligence agency said yesterday it had uncovered a North Korean spy ring and arrested six agents, including a prominent professor at Seoul's top university.

A husband-and-wife team described as "moles" were also arrested. However, the woman committed suicide during the investigation, the Agency for National Security Planning (NSP) announced.

The spy ring was discovered last month, when an official of a left-wing group reported to the police that he had been contacted by the couple, who had tried to recruit him.

The intelligence agency said the couple, Choi Chung-nam, 35, and Kang Yun-jung, 28, had been sent to the South in August, slipping in through the west coast in a submarine. The agency said the two had married in 1990 in Pyongyang under orders from their spymaster and had named their son "Nam-hyuk" short for "Revolution in South Chosun [Korea]".

Their assignment in South Korea included contacting resident spies, recruiting new members, gathering bus, train and plane schedules, finding corn seeds and locating the safe house of a top North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop.

A preliminary investigation of the couple led to the detention of Koh Young-bok, 69, an honorary professor at Seoul National University. Professor Koh, whose uncle went North during the 1950-53 Korean War, became a spy in 1961, though he portrayed himself as an anti-North Korean conservative.

The intelligence unit also detained a family of three, saying that the family head, Shim Chung-woong, 55, an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, had been ordered to devise plans to paralyse the city's subway system.

The probe also found that Li Il-nam, the nephew of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's former wife, had been assassinated by agents from the North. The agency said that Li, who had defected to the South, was shot to death in February.

The agency said five of those detained would be prosecuted for violating the country's National Security Law.

Kang Yun-jung killed herself during the investigation with a capsule of liquefied cyanide gas hidden in her vagina.

A senior investigator Koh Song-jin told a news conference: "She was taken to a bathroom escorted by a female investigator. While trying to wash herself she suddenly took out the capsule from deep inside her ... We rushed her to the hospital." "I have come for the unification of my nation and I cannot betray General Kim Jong-il," Mrs Kang was quoted as saying when she was first detained.

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