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North Korean Defector Arrested In Alleged Attack Plot

Park Sanghak

SAM KIM   09/15/11 11:59 PM ET   AP

SEOUL, South Korea — A North Korean defector has been arrested on suspicion of plotting an attack on a leading anti-Pyongyang activist in Seoul, South Korean officials said Friday.

Prosecution and intelligence officials said that a North Korean defector surnamed Ahn targeted Park Sang-hak, another North Korean defector who leads a campaign to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North.

The two South Korean officials declined to confirm a report by Yonhap news agency that Ahn was carrying poison when captured. The officials refused to be named because of the continuing investigation.

Earlier this year, a South Korean court sentenced a North Korean agent to 10 years in prison for plotting to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, a high-profile defector and former senior member of the North's ruling party. The agent had come south posing as a defector, but his identity was discovered while being interrogated.

The South Korean investigators refrained from immediately linking the latest case to North Korea and would not comment on local media speculation that Anh might be another infiltrator.

Ahn's arrest comes as North Korea harshly criticizes activists like Park, threatening to shell them for sending leaflets critical of Pyongyang across the heavily armed border between the countries.

Details of Ahn's alleged plot haven't been released, but Park said Ahn tried to arrange a meeting earlier this month. Ahn was arrested shortly afterward.

Tension between the countries spiked when the North bombarded a South Korean front-line island last November, killing four people. Seoul is also angry about the deadly sinking of a warship in March last year that it holds Pyongyang responsible for.

Animosity has been easing recently, however. Seoul allowed a group of religious leaders and a prominent orchestra conductor to visit North Korea earlier this month. Another religious delegation is now pushing for a trip to the North.

Relations between the Koreas deteriorated after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 and tied aid to progress in North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

South Korea has also stepped up its crackdown on activities seen as aiding North Korea. In August, prosecutors said they arrested five South Koreans on suspicion of spying for Pyongyang. South Korea's new prosecutor-general vowed that month a "war against pro-North Korean forces."

South and North Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce instead of a peace treaty. If charged under the South's National Security Law, Ahn could face a punishment of up to death.

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Filed by Benjamin Hart  |