Authorities arrested two North Koreans for allegedly posing as defectors to South Korea and plotting to assassinate the top-ranked North Korean official ever to defect to Seoul, officials said today.
Hwang Jang Yop, a former senior member of the North's ruling Worker's Party who once mentored leader Kim Jong Il, defected to the South in 1997.
He wrote books and gave lectures condemning Mr Kim's regime as totalitarian and now lives under tight secrecy in South Korea.
Yesterday, Seoul prosecutors arrested two North Korean army majors for entering South Korea by posing as ordinary defectors with an alleged mission to kill the 87-year-old Mr Hwang, according to Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.
The two, both 36, confessed to investigators that their military boss ordered them to report about Nr Hwang's activities in South Korea and be ready to "slit the betrayer's throat," said a senior district prosecutor on condition of anonymity.
The men, named Kim Myong Ho and Dong Myong Kwan - entered South Korea in January and February via Thailand. Their plot was revealed while they underwent an intense investigation on their motive for defecting, the prosecutor said.
A spokesman at the National Intelligence Service confirmed the arrest of the men but didn't provide further details. He spoke on customary condition of anonymity, citing an office policy.
Mr Hwang returned to Seoul earlier this week after a rare trip to the US, where he harshly criticised North Korea's authoritarian communist regime.
Mr Hwang, speaking to journalists and academics in Washington late last month, said he decided to flee the North after Mr Kim's policies led to mass starvation in the mid-1990s and has no regret about his decision.
"Everybody other than (leader) Kim Jong Il in North Korea are slaves, serfs," Mr Hwang said through an interpreter at the time.
Mr Hwang said that change in the North can come only through diplomacy and economic strategies, not military force.
Instead of targeting Mr Kim, Mr Hwang said, the North Korean people should be told of their own country's human rights abuses and of the democratic freedoms they could enjoy under a different system.