- South Korean president warns of North Korean provocations
- North Korea decries South’s military drills, threatens attack
The possibility of a terrorist attack or other provocations by North Korea is increasing as Kim Jong Un’s regime struggles to stem defections of key government officials, South Korean President Park Geun Hye said at a national security meeting Monday.
The defections signal a “serious fracture” within the North Korea’s regime, escalating the prospects of provocation as Kim tries to maintain control, Park said. Her comments come as South Korea and the U.S. began their annual military drills.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced last week that a senior North Korean diplomat based in the U.K. had defected to the South. Thae Yong Ho, the second highest-ranked official at the North Korean embassy in London, was among seven diplomats who have defected this year, according to Joongang Ilbo newspaper, which cited government officials.
The Unification Ministry said Sunday the reasons for the defections have changed mainly from economic to political, suggesting unrest within North’s regime. Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee said Thae told South Korean officials that he defected because of his disillusionment with Kim’s regime.
The latest comments by Park are likely to escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. North Korea on Monday decried the two-week long military exercises and threatened a “pre-emptive” nuclear attack on the “slightest sign of aggression.”
“The situation on the Korean peninsula is so tense that a nuclear war may break out any moment,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said, citing a statement from the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army.
Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said that while North Korea may launch some sort of provocation as a way to distract attention away from the defections, Kim is not losing its grip on power.
The defections were “bound to happen as Kim Jong Un began killing his generals,” Lankov said of the reported purges of top party officials including the execution of Kim’s uncle. “This does not mean North Korea is on the brink of collapse.”