Nearly half of all North Korean spies arrested in South Korea over the past 10 years entered the country disguised as defectors, said a South Korean lawmaker on Friday.
Since 2003, South Korean authorities had arrested 49 North Korean spies and 21 of them had come to the South posing as refugees, noted Sim Jae-kwon, a member of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, citing data compiled by the Ministry of Justice.
During the Roh Moo-hyun administration from 2003 to 2008, 14 North Korean spies were arrested, while 31 were arrested during the Lee Myung-bak administration from 2008 to 2013, showed the data. Four more spies have been arrested so far this year after conservative President Park Geun-hye took office in February.
“The rise in arrests appears to be a result of increased espionage from the North as inter-Korean relations worsened after the Lee Myung-bak administration came into power,” said Sim.
Lee, of the conservative Saenuri Party, took a hardline approach on North Korea unlike his liberal predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, who took a conciliatory stance and tried to increase cross-border exchanges.
Around 71 per cent of all arrests over the past decade occurred while a conservative president was in office.
The jump in arrests also coincides with the 2010 sinking of the South Korean navy ship Cheonan, which, according to an international investigation, was Pyongyang’s doing.
Heightened inter-Korean tensions following the sinking prompted South Korea to step up its anti-espionage activities, said observers.
“We have to guarantee the human rights and safety of defectors as much as possible, but the fact that nearly half of the spies were defectors shows the shortcomings of the National Intelligence Service’s investigations and unification ministry’s management of refugees,” noted Sim. “The government urgently needs countermeasures.