49 N. Korean Spies Caught In Past Decade: Lawmaker

October 11, 2013

(Yonhap) A total of 49 North Korean spies were arrested in South Korea over the past decade, with nearly half of them caught posing as North Korean defectors, a lawmaker said Friday, citing government data.

According to the data submitted by the Ministry of Justice, 14 North Korean spies were arrested during the 2003-2008 Roh Moo-hyun administration, while 31 were caught under the 2008-2013 Lee Myung-bak government, Rep. Sim Jae-kwon of the main opposition Democratic Party said.

Four more North Korean spies have been arrested since President Park Geun-hye took office in February, he added.

Roh, from the liberal opposition bloc, had sought inter-Korean reconciliation and pushed for greater cross-border exchanges.

The following conservative administration of President Lee Myung-bak, however, took a hard-line stance toward Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, leading to a rapid deterioration in inter-Korean relations.

Sim said the frayed relations appeared to be the main cause for the increase in spy activity during Lee’s term. Others, however, cited a possible increase in the government’s anti-espionage activity amid high cross-border tension.

Of the 49 arrested, 21 entered South Korea disguised as North Korean defectors, according to the data. “We should protect the human rights and guarantee the safety of defectors as much as possible, but the fact that nearly half of the spies were defectors points to a problem in the investigations of our National Intelligence Service and (the government’s) management of defectors,” Sim said. “It is urgent for the government to take (necessary) measures.”

The North Korean agents had been tasked with gathering state secrets, assassinating high-profile North Korean defectors in the South, and repatriating defectors to the North, among other responsibilities, the data showed.