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N. Korea Accuses South of Backing Assassination Plot


North Korea has made a rare and public accusation against South Korea of backing an undercover attempt to kill the North's leader, Kim Jong Il. In a public statement, Pyongyang names an agent it accuses of working for the South's intelligence agency.

North Korea went public Friday with what it described as the capture of an enemy agent.

North Korean television said authorities have arrested a person with the surname Ri. The report said the man was trying to carry out what it called a "terrorist mission given by a South Korean intelligence organisation to harm the country's top leader," an indirect reference to Kim Jong Il.

The report continued by saying the people have to deal a merciless blow to anyone who dares to attack the headquarters of the Korean revolution, no matter where the attacker may come from.

Friday's rare and unusual public statement was issued by the Ministry of State Security, North Korea's main spy agency. It alleges the would-be assassin was equipped with acoustic devices for tracking the North Korean leader's movements, and that he appeared to be planning an eventual poison attack.

South Korean officials have not yet responded formally. South Korea's main intelligence agency has denied any involvement with the North Korean claims.

The North's accusations follow a year of steadily worsening inter-Korean relations since the South's conservative President, Lee Myung-bak, took office in January. Pyongyang labels Mr. Lee a "traitor," and accuses him of failing to live up to past North-South agreements. This month North Korea sharply scaled back border access and major North-South projects, including a joint industrial zone. The North has threatened to sever relations altogether.

South Korea experts say it is very uncharacteristic of Pyongyang to speak publicly of a risk to the North's leader. North Korean officials generally prefer to maintain an image of invincibility for Kim Jong Il.

Yang Mu-jin, a scholar at Kyungnam University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said he thinks the North Korean announcement has two purposes.

He said domestically, North Korea is seeking to stoke anti-South Korean feeling among its people. At the same time, Pyongyang is retaliating for South Korea's prosecution of a convicted North Korean spy earlier this year. He said the North is also sending a message that it will keep up a tough policy toward the South for the foreseeable future.

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