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U.S. to Question North Korean Defector

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 25, 1997 – U.S. officials will get a chance to question a high-ranking North Korean defector who recently arrived in South Korea, DoD officials here said.

Hwang Jang Yop and his aide Kim Dok Hung sought asylum at the Republic of Korea's consulate in Beijing more than two months ago. They arrived in Seoul April 20 after a stay in the Philippines.

North Korea "is one of the most dangerous flash points in the world," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said on NBC Meet the Press April 21. Cohen said Republic of Korea officials assured him during his recent trip to Seoul that the United States will have access to the defector "to find out more about what's in the hearts and minds."

U.S. officials consider Hwang, North Korea's leading ideologue -- a zealous advocate of the communist regime -- a very important defector, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said at a Pentagon briefing April 22. "The South Koreans have promised to share their information with us, and they have made it very clear we will have our own independent access to defector Hwang," Bacon said.

DoD officials expect to talk with Hwang in several weeks, he said. The United States is interested in information on nuclear weapons, military readiness, missile production and North Korean leadership, DoD officials said.

Hwang told reporters in Seoul that North Korea is prepared to use its "formidable armed forces" to solve its "economic paralysis." Hwang said the North Korean people have "lost hope" and the nation has been reduced to "a beggar country," according to a New York Times report.

North Korea, one of the world's last bastions of communism, is facing severe food shortages and malnutrition due to problems caused by the tightly-controlled, centralized system, DoD officials said. Severe flooding in the last several years have contributed to widespread famine. Despite economic failure and starvation among its people, North Korea has maintained powerful military forces.

Defense officials consider North Korea's military capability troubling, Bacon said. They have the world's fourth largest army with 1.2 million troops, he said. "Fifty percent of it is arrayed along the demilitarized zone. They have extensive artillery trained on South Korea. They have worked very hard to build dangerous and threatening weapons." Their arsenal includes chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles, DoD officials said.

DoD takes the North Korean threat seriously and is interested in what intelligence defector Hwang can provide, Bacon said. But, he noted, there is no evidence of increased military preparedness.

"Although this is a very powerful ... military force arrayed against the Republic of Korea and against our own forces, the general level of exercise and training has fallen off somewhat in the last several years from what it had been in the past," Bacon said. "We attribute this in part to the impact of their economic problems."

The United States is committed to maintaining 100,000 troops to provide security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. About 37,000 troops are forward-deployed in the Republic of Korea and another 47,000 are stationed in Japan to counter the threat from the north.

Defense leaders beefed up these forces in 1994 in response to North Korea's developing nuclear program, Bacon said. At the time, U.S. officials believed North Korea had generated enough plutonium to make at least one nuclear weapon, he said.

"We persuaded them to stop through negotiations, which led to the Framework Agreement," Bacon said. "It is generally believed that the North Korean nuclear program is frozen. Although there can be no absolute assurance that it does not already possess a small number of nuclear weapons."

The U.S. goal has been and continues to be to convince North Korea that it is futile to look for military solutions to their problems, Bacon said. "We believe we have a very powerful defensive force that could respond extremely quickly with devastating power to any attack made against us or the Republic of Korea," he said.

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