South Korea\’s main spy agency has denied involvement in an alleged plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, after Pyongyang\’s claims of an assassination attempt fuelled cross-border tensions.
The communist state said on Thursday it recently arrested a man who tried to conduct a “terrorist mission” against Kim under orders from a South Korean intelligence agency.
“It has nothing to do with the National Intelligence Service,” a spokesman for the NIS told the AFP news agency.
Seoul\’s unification ministry declined comment on the plot claim, which comes at a time of increasingly frosty relations between North and South.
Early this month, the North expelled hundreds of South Korean workers from the Kaesong joint industrial estate and imposed strict border controls, in protest at what it called Seoul\’s confrontational policy.
The North\’s State Security Ministry said a man surnamed Ri had been detained while carrying out a “terrorist mission given by a South Korean puppet intelligence-gathering organisation to do harm to the safety of the top leader of the DPRK (North Korea).”
The ministry said Ri crossed the border early this year, without specifying where, and came into contact with a South Korean agent surnamed Hwang.
Relations at a \’dangerous phase\’
It said the intelligence organisation sent him back to the North after training him to gather information about Kim\’s official visits.
“The organisation also sent him speech and acoustic sensing and pursuit devices for tracking the movement of the top leader and even violent poison in the end,” said the statement, carried by North Korean state media.
“This case goes to prove that the South Korean puppets have gone the lengths of resorting to thrice-cursed methods to dare harm the headquarters of the DPRK, hell-bent on inciting confrontation with the DPRK.”
Relations with the government of South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak have reached an extremely dangerous phase, it said.
The conservative leader has linked major economic aid to progress in the North\’s denuclearisation, a stance that enrages Pyongyang.
The state of Kim\’s health is being closely watched after US and South Korean officials said he suffered a stroke around mid-August.
Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the US Pacific command, said in Washington on Thursday that the 66-year-old remains in control of his government.
Nuclear disarmament talks stalled
The North said it also foiled an attempt to collect soil, water and leaf samples to check for nuclear activity “as instructed by a puppet intelligence-gathering and plot-breeding institution.”
International nuclear disarmament talks are stalled over the North\’s refusal to permit the taking of samples to check its atomic activities.
Analysts said it was highly unusual for the North to allege a plot against Kim.
“The North is likely to use these alleged incidents as a pretext to heighten tension,” Baek Seung-Joo of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses told AFP.
Yang Moo-Jin, of the University of North Korean Studies, also said the claims indicated ties would worsen.
“The North is saying in effect only enmity remains with the current South Korean government as it attempted to hurt our Dear Leader,” Yang said, predicting a further clampdown on the Kaesong estate.
The North\’s security ministry said authorities also foiled a plot to gather secrets and to lure top officials to defect.