North Korea Threatens South’s Security Chief as Tensions Mount

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea threatened to target South Korea’s intelligence chief after saying it had captured a spy from the South, escalating tensions between the adversaries.

North Korea will seek to “mercilessly punish” South Korean agents and Nam Jae Joon, the head of the National Intelligence Service, is a primary target, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement yesterday carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. It didn’t specify how it would punish Nam or others.

The threat comes two days after the North’s Ministry of State Security said it detained a South Korean agent that had infiltrated Pyongyang. The North’s charge is groundless, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui Do said yesterday at a briefing in Seoul.

“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.”

Ties between the countries hit a low in February when North Korea tested its third atomic device. It 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 the North’s leader Kim Jong Un if it led to concrete results.

State of War

The two Koreas remain technically in conflict after the 1950-53 Korean War ended without a formal peace treaty.

The North Korean security ministry said Nov. 7 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.”

“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.

Ethnic Koreans and North Korean defectors in China have collected information near the border to sell to the media, Koh said. “This could be one of those people,” he said.

The announcement of the detention of the alleged spy came less than two weeks after the North repatriated six South Koreans in a goodwill gesture. More than 500 South Koreans held by the North hadn’t been returned as of 2012, according to the Unification Ministry. The North also continues to hold Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary and tour operator detained in November 2012.

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