North Korea said on Friday that it had arrested two South Korean men on espionage charges for collecting military and other secrets on the isolated country, including data regarding its top leadership, and infiltrating it with political propaganda and subversive religious materials.
During a news conference in Pyongyang on Thursday, the two men identified themselves as Kim Guk-gi, 60, and Choe Chun-gil, 55, and apologized for committing “anti-state” crimes while spying on behalf of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch on Friday.
Officials from the State Security Department, the North’s secret police, told the news conference that Mr. Kim and Mr. Choe were “heinous terrorists” who tried to harm the North’s top leadership with “assassination” plots, the news agency said.
The South Korean government immediately dismissed the claims as groundless, but confirmed that the men were its citizens. Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of National Unification, issued a statement on Friday demanding their immediate release and urging the North to allow South Korean lawyers to visit them. . The South Korean spy agency had also previously dismissed similar cases of alleged spying as fabrications by the North.
The cases of Mr. Kim and Mr. Choe came amid growing signs that the border between China and North Korea has become part of a murky struggle between the rival Koreas. In recent years, South Korea has arrested several people who it said were North Korean spies who crossed the China-North Korea border and arrived in the South disguised as refugees.