North Korea Arrests 2 South Koreans for Spying

Pictured above: Kim Kuk-gi (left) and Choe Chun-gil were accused of spying on behalf of South Korea’s spy agency. (Photo courtesy of Kyodo)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korea urged North Korea on Friday to immediately release two of its citizens who were detained in Pyongyang for alleged espionage, reports the Associated Press.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the two men were detained last year for collecting party, state and military secrets on behalf of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The two men identified themselves as Kim Kuk-gi, 60, and Choe Chun-gil, 55, and publicly apologized for their “anti-state” crimes during a news conference in Pyongyang.

On Friday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed that Kim and Choe were South Korean citizens but declined to the comment on their backgrounds. The NIS has also denied the North’s accusations of espionage, calling them “absolutely groundless.”

“We strongly demand North Korea to quickly release our citizens Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil and repatriate them without hesitation,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, the unification ministry’s spokesman.

KCNA reported that Kim was detained last September in Pyongyang while Choe was arrested in December in Dandong, a Chinese city near the border with North Korea.

During the news conference, Kim said he had been paid thousands of dollars and given encrypted cellphones to gather information on the late North Korean leader Kim Jon-il’s plans to visit China in 2009. The KCNA report added that Kim ran also an underground church in Dandong.

Meanwhile, Cho said he had smuggled USB memory sticks containing South Korean movies and other illegal foreign information into the North, according to the New York Times. He also said that he was instructed by his spy master to collect soil samples near Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear complex.

North Korea has repeatedly been accused of arresting several South Koreans and Korean Americans who either operated near the border or visited the country for humanitarian or missionary work. Last year, North Korea sentenced South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-wook to hard labor for life on charges of founding an underground church to undermine the ruling Kim family and spying for the South.

In February, a Korean Canadian pastor went missing during a humanitarian mission in the North. The pastor’s church in Toronto said the North Korean government had sent Canadian officials a confirmation of his detainment.