South Koreans warned of possible terror threat from North
August 19, 2004
SEOUL — In an unusual public warning, South Korean intelligence officials said this week that North Korea is threatening terrorist attacks against the South in retaliation for supporting two mass defections earlier this year.
In a public advisory released late Monday, the National Intelligence Service said the warning wasn’t based on specific information of an impending attack but was issued after North Korea made public threats regarding the defections.
In July, two groups of refugees — numbering more than 450 men, women and children — were airlifted from Vietnam to Seoul after escaping North Korea. While South Korea called it a humanitarian mission, the North called the move “premeditated abduction” and “terrorism” against the people of North Korea.
South Korean officials, while trying not to chill an already-fragile thaw in relations, denied the North’s accusations, saying the National Security Law binds South Korea to accept any North Korean seeking asylum.
“North Korea is threatening our country with terrorism in retaliation,” the NIS said in issuing the warning. “We are advising heightened vigilance in view of the refugees’ arrival and the North’s reaction to it.
“Although there are no specific signs of terror, we issued the warnings as a precautionary measure.”
The warning focused on South Koreans living or traveling in China or Southeast Asia and members of groups who help North Korean defectors in other countries.
According to human rights activists, most defectors sneak across the North Korean border with China, then travel to Southeast Asian countries to try and make their way to South Korea. More than 5,000 North Koreans have defected since the Korean War, the groups said, with almost 1,300 of those defections coming in 2003.
In the past, Seoul has accused the North of actual attacks. South Koreans say the North was responsible for a 1983 bombing in Myanmar that killed 17 South Koreans; they also blame the North for a 1987 bomb aboard a Korean Air Flight off Myanmar’s coast that killed 115 passengers and crew.
On Sunday, South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young requested that local civic groups stop encouraging the defection of North Koreans, saying it would worsen relations between the two nations.