The Korea Herald


Former NK spymaster's visit roils political differences

By Jo He-rim

Published : Feb. 26, 2018 - 18:19

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While the PyeongChang Winter Olympics ended with praise for its contribution to a thaw in inter-Korean relations, the friction between conservatives and liberals in South Korea is intensifying over the government’s approval of the visit of a North Korean delegation led by a high-ranking general accused of masterminding provocations against the South.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Monday held an outdoor rally in Cheonggye Square in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, denouncing the liberal Moon Jae-in administration for allowing the visit of Kim Yong-chol, the Vice Chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

Describing Kim as a murderer and a war criminal, the conservative bloc views Kim as the mastermind behind the 2010 torpedo attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. Kim was the chief of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau that is in charge of overseas intelligence operations and cyber warfare, at the time.

“South Korea became a country that shakes hands with a murderer,” the party chairman Hong Joon-pyo said at the rally. Some 20,000 protesters gathered at the square, according to the police.

“We cannot help but declare war against the Moon Jae-in government to protect the Republic of Korea’s liberal democracy when it disregards the deaths of 46 sailors of the corvette Cheonan and protects Kim Yong-chol,” Floor Leader Rep. Kim Sung-tae also said earlier in a party meeting. 

A protester from a conservative civic group holds up a picture of Kim Yong-chol, North Korea's Workers' Party vice chairman, at a rally in Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap) A protester from a conservative civic group holds up a picture of Kim Yong-chol, North Korea's Workers' Party vice chairman, at a rally in Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)

Conservative lawmakers had staged an overnight sit-in protest Saturday on the southern end of the Unification Bridge to block entry to the delegation, making them take a detour Sunday morning to reach its accommodation in Seoul.

The center-right Bareun Mirae Party also called for the government to demand an apology from Kim as a sovereign nation, to relieve the public anger.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea hit back at the main opposition party, calling their acts as “international embarrassment.” They also urged the conservative bloc to return to the National Assembly to take their parliamentary duty to handle bills, as the plenary session is scheduled on Wednesday.

The North Korean general is also accused of being responsible for several other attacks, including the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo, an island near the West Sea maritime border in 2010 and planting of land mines at inter-Korean borders. Four people were killed in the shelling while two were severely injured by the land mines in 2015.

The Unification Ministry had explained that while it is clear that the North had conducted the series of attacks against the South, it is hard to pinpoint who was responsible for the incidents. The government also said they viewed the visit as helping pave the way for peace talks and improve inter-Korean ties.

The Defense Ministry, however, did not elaborate on the controversy surrounding Kim, as it had previously said it was “highly likely” that the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau was behind the sinking of the corvette.

Kim has been blacklisted by Washington since 2010 and Seoul in 2016, for his alleged involvement in the provocations and nuclear and missile development programs. However, his trip was approved as the sanctions only involve an asset freeze and not a travel ban, according to the government.

By Jo He-rim (