July 5, 2005

North Korea still a threat South’s next top spy

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea is still a security threat tothe South despite improved relations and Seoul must maintain aclear legal defense to keep Pyongyang in check, South Korea'snext spy chief said on Tuesday.

Critics of South Korea's national security legislation andpeople who say they had been punished as North Korean spiesunder it have said the key anti-communism law must be scrappedto ensure nobody is unjustly victimized.

Supporters of the law have said it offers protection fromsocial unrest in the South incited by the communist North.

"We continue to be under the security threat of the North,"Kim Seung-kyu told a parliamentary hearing ahead of hisappointment as director of the National Intelligence Service.

"The North and us are in a state of military confrontationwhile being a partner in exchange and cooperation."

Ties between the two Koreas have warmed since their leadersheld an unprecedented and unrepeated summit in 2000.

But North Korea continues to pursue what it calls a"military-first" policy, maintaining many of its1.2-million-man army just north of the Demilitarised Zoneborder.

Kim, who is likely to start his new job this month, alsosaid the current anti-communism law could be revised to betteraddress concerns about human rights, while offering a line ofdefense against the North.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his ruling UriParty have made it a key policy pledge to repeal the law, whichthey called a relic of past military governments used tosuppress political opposition.

"I was walking on the street when they grabbed me and tookme away," said Kim Eun-joo, 36, about the start of herexperience as an accused North Korean spy 12 years ago.


What followed was days of incarceration, she told thehearing, and she was kept awake around the clock byinvestigators who tortured her.

She was tried and sentenced to two years in prison underthe anti-communism law for traveling to Japan in the early1990s and meeting with people suspected of being North Koreanagents.

"I was used for a political purpose at the time," Kim said,adding the anti-communism law must be scrapped so that thegovernment should never be allowed to fabricate spy cases.

Kim, the spy chief nominee, was a life-long prosecutor andserved as South Korea's justice minister before resigning lastmonth to take on the top spy job.

He admitted during questioning in parliament he lackedexperience in the field and had few contacts in the globalintelligence community. The post of spy agency chief is notsubject to a confirmation vote by parliament.

Main opposition Grand National Party members said thechoice of Kim was an attempt by Roh to weaken the spy agency.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer, has pursued reforms ofthe agency, saying it must break out its past image as anominous institution manipulated by presidents for politicalpurposes.

The two Koreas are technically at war because the 1950-53Korean War ended in a truce and not a full peace treaty.