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North Korean spy network cracked

November 20, 1997

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Six people have been arrested in what South Korea’s intelligence agency calls the largest North Korean spy ring cracked in years.

Those arrested include a respected professor with ties to the government; subway worker with orders to sabotage transport in the event of war; and a North Korean couple trying to hunt down a top defector from their communist country.

However, only five of the alleged spies are still alive, the Agency for National Security Planning said Thursday as it displayed some confiscated spy tools. One North Korean woman committed suicide while in custody by swallowing a hidden cyanide capsule, the agency said.

Reporters were not allowed to speak with the spies.

The roundup began last month with the arrests of the North Korean couple, which led investigators to the other four, including Koh Young-bok, 69, professor emeritus of sociology at Seoul National University.

Koh once served as a private tutor to the wife of assassinated president Park Chung-hee and ``was very much trusted by government authorities,″ senior investigator Koh Song-jin said.

The professor was recruited by another North Korean spy in 1961 and had been actively engaged in espionage ever since, he said.

The investigator said the intelligence agency was embarrassed that such ``a famous and pro-government conservative figure turned out to be a spy.″

The North Korean couple, Choi Jung Nam, 35, and his wife, Kang Yon Jung, 28, left the North’s western port of Nampo on a vessel disguised as a fishing boat and arrived on the southern island of Koje on Aug. 2.

They were arrested while trying to recruit a South Korean dissident at a hotel coffee shop in the southern city of Ulsan on Oct. 27.

Subsequently arrested were the professor and Shim Jung-woong, 55, a subway system employee in Seoul, and two members of his family.

The chief investigator said the North Korean couple had been ordered to find Hwang Jang Yop, the North’s top ideologue who defected to the South early this year. The security agency has been hiding him in a safehouse since his arrival in Seoul.

The husband also told interrogators that two other northern agents killed a prominent North Korean defector living in South Korea in February.

Lee Han-young, 36, a cousin of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il by marriage, was fatally shot in the head by unidentified gunmen outside his apartment south of Seoul.

Despite an extensive manhunt, the death still remains a mystery.

The Koreas have been bitter enemies since the division of their peninsula into the communist North and the capitalist South in 1945. They fought a bloody three-year war in the early 1950s.

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