The assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half brother in Malaysia has stoked fears in South Korea that North Korean operatives will attempt to kill defectors, especially those helping to combat the regime.
Kim Jong-nam was murdered at an Kuala Lumpur International Airport earlier this week. The killers, suspected North Korean agents, used a toxin “more potent than cyanide” to eliminate Kim, an outspoken critic of his younger’s brother’s rule.
South Korean lawmakers believe that the North will target high-level defectors, those former senior officials in Pyongyang who became disillusioned with Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror. “The government should thoroughly prepare to prevent possible assassinations of high-ranking North Korean defectors,” explained Rep. Ha Tae-Keung.
Potential targets might include individuals like Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain. He defected last year and recently suggested that “Kim Jong-un’s days are numbered.”
Observers believe the apparent assassination of Kim Jong-nam points to instability in North Korea and cracks in the regime that could push Kim Jong-un to target those who challenge his rule.
“The event explicitly showed the tragic reality of Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror,” explained Rep. Kim Myung-yeon, “It has increased the possibility that Kim will seek abrupt provocations against South Korea and the international community to maintain his regime.”
Others noted that the hit highlighted the brutal nature of the North Korean government.
“If it should be confirmed that the assassination was carried out by the North Korean regime, this would be a telltale example of the brutal, inhumane nature of the Kim Jong-un regime,” South Korea’s Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Wednesday.
It is unclear at this point whether the hit on Kim Jong-nam was sanctioned by North Korea; however, U.S. and South Korean officials believe that his death was likely a political assassination.
Kim Jong-nam’s death was consistent with past hits by North Korean assassins.
A spy identified only by the surname Ahn was arrested in 2011 after an attempt against human rights activist Park Sang-hak, who sent leaflets criticizing the North Korean government into the North. Ahn was arrested with two poison guns, a poison pen, and several toxic pills. He was intercepted by the National Intelligence Service.
That same year, North Korean assassins reportedly killed Pastor Patrick Kim with a poison pen. He sent Bibles and anti-government booklets criticizing Kim Jong-il. He received warnings from the regime before his death. The agent was never captured.
Last August, reports suggested that North Korea had dispatched assassins to deal with defector dilemma after the South Korean government suggested the North Korean regime was in crisis.
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