April 27, 2010 07:35
In November last year North Korea dispatched two agents to the South disguised as defectors on a mission to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the Workers' Party Central Committee who defected to the South in 1997. At the time, Pyongyang was launching a charm offensive to persuade the South to hold an inter-Korean summit.
North Korea had been trying a conciliatory line since August, when it dispatched a delegation to the funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung. Encouraged by a secret Singapore meeting in October between Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee and Kim Yang-gon, the director of the North's United Front Department, Pyongyang a month later invited a South Korean delegation to the border city of Kaesong and discussed details of a summit.
Won Tong-yon, the deputy director of the United Front Department, who represented the North at the meeting, reportedly showed a draft summit agreement to the Unification Ministry bureau chief who led the South Korean delegation. Won had also drafted the agreement adopted at the second inter-Korean summit during the Roh Moo-hyun administration in October 2007.
Even after the secret contacts ruptured due to failures in narrowing differences over the three main issues of denuclearization, repatriation of South Korean prisoners of war and abductees and humanitarian aid, the North kept pushing for a summit through various channels.
But on Nov. 10, a North Korean patrol warship crossed the de facto maritime border near Daecheong Island in the West Sea and provoked a skirmish. And Kim Yong-chol, the director of the Reconnaissance Bureau of the People's Armed Forces, issued an order to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop around the same time.
There have been doubts that North Korea would really torpedo the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan with a resumption of the six-party denuclearization talks around the corner. But the North has a long history of taking contradictory action. A case in point is the second naval skirmish off Yeonpyeong Island on June 29, 2002, which the North provoked just when inter-Korean relations were making substantial progress in the wake of the 2000 inter-Korean summit. Mt. Kumgang tours were in full swing at the time. While the North's provocation was evident, Pyongyang claimed it was reacting in self-defense to an attack by South Korea.
It is the North's old habit to pretend innocence after provocations. When the South Korean presidential entourage was terrorized at the Aung San Cemetery in Burma on Oct. 9, 1983, the North four days later called its alleged involvement in the terror "a preposterous act." When a Korean Air passenger aircraft was bombed on Nov. 29, 1987, Pyongyang issued a statement a week later, saying, "We have nothing to do with the bombing."
When a North Korean submarine intruded into Gangneung on the east coast on Sept. 18, 1996, the North also kept silent for a while. Only on Sept. 23, when its involvement could no longer be denied, the North claimed this was an accident, saying in a statement the submarine "ran aground" while floating due to engine trouble during training.
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