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North Korea Arrests South Korean Spy in Pyongyang, KCNA Says

North Korea said it arrested a South Korean spy who was trying to foment instability, creating a new irritant in ties between the two adversaries and drawing a denial from the South.

The South Korean intelligence agent was detained in the capital Pyongyang and at first claimed to be Chinese, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said yesterday, citing an unidentified spokesman for the Ministry of State Security. The North’s claim is groundless, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui Do said today at a briefing in Seoul.

The arrest may further sour ties that hit a low in February when North Korea tested its third atomic device and then threatened nuclear strikes against the U.S. and South Korea over United Nations sanctions. On Nov. 6, North Korea rejected the idea of a summit after South Korean President Park Geun Hye said she was willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if it led to concrete results.

“The fact that North Korea has made the arrest official means that it could use this case to influence the relations with South Korea,” Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said by phone. “Who this person really is and whether he was really sent by the South Korean government as a spy would be the key questions to resolve.”

The North Korean ministry spokesman said that before entering Pyongyang, the alleged intelligence agent spent nearly six years spying on the North from a neighboring country while “disguising himself as a religionist.”

‘Dishonest Elements’

“He entered the DPRK to rally dishonest elements within the boundary of the DPRK and use them for undermining the stability of the social system,” KCNA said, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A growing number of ethnic Koreans and North Korean defectors in China have sold to the media information they collect on the North near the border, Koh said. “This could be one of those people,” he said.

The announcement on the detention of the alleged South Korean spy comes less than two weeks after the North repatriated six detained South Koreans in a goodwill gesture. The two Koreas remain technically in conflict after the 1950-53 Korean War ended without a formal peace treaty.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at skim609@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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