SEOUL, March 27 (Korea Bizwire) – South Korea called on North Korea on Friday to immediately release two of its nationals detained in the communist country on espionage charges.
North Korea announced that it has arrested the two South Korean men on charges of espionage for the South’s state spy agency.
“It’s very regrettable that the North is making such a groundless claim about them,” the unification ministry said in a statement. “We strongly call for their quick release and repatriation.”
The North held a press conference for the two, which it identified as Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil, at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang on Thursday. Speaking at a press briefing, unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol confirmed that Kim and Choe are South Korean nationals. But he refused to clarify whether they are related to the NIS.
It is a matter that requires a South Korean government probe after they are freed and repatriated here, Lim said.
He instead criticized the North for violating human rights and humanitarian spirit as well as international practices by unilaterally detaining the South’s citizens without any notice to Seoul.
In the Pyongyang press conference, meanwhile, an unnamed official at the North’s Ministry of State Security branded them as “heinous terrorists,” according to Pyongyang’s media.
“They zealously took part in the anti-DPRK smear campaign of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet group of traitors to isolate and blockade the DPRK in the international arena by labeling it ‘a country printing counterfeit notes’ and ‘sponsor of terrorism’ while pulling it up over its ‘human rights issue,’” the North’s official was quoted as saying.
DPRK is the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
The official also accused the two of gathering information on the Workers’ Party of Korea and other state and military secrets.
Pyongyang released public footage and audio files of what it claims to be the two men’s confessions of spying for the South’s National Intelligence Service (NIS).
With the North’s security agents standing next to them, Kim and Choe said they were bribed by a senior NIS agent to collect information on the communist nation and criticize its system.
In 2010, Kim said, he received an “instruction” from the NIS that the North’s top leader might visit China by train and he provided the Seoul-based agency with information related to a railway station in a Chinese border town.
He also said he offered information on the North’s nuclear program. He admitted to have committed a grave crime and apologized for that.
Kim was born in Daejeon, a South Korean city, and he had operated an underground church in the Chinese border city of Dandong since 2003, the North said, without specifying when and how he was arrested.
As to Choe, it said, his hometown is the South’s eastern city of Chuncheon, and the 56-year-old left his country in 2003 and spent many years in China. He was caught by the North’s border guards after illegally entering the nation.
The arrests of Kim and Choe are expected to add to already-strained ties between the two Koreas.
It raised the number of South Koreans currently detained in the North to three. Kim Jeong-wook, a South Korean missionary, was put in custody in October 2013.