News / Asia

    South Korea Says Defense Minister Target of 'Terror'

    Threatening letter with white substance, determined to be flour, mailed to South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, ROK Ministry of National Defense, undated.
    Threatening letter with white substance, determined to be flour, mailed to South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, ROK Ministry of National Defense, undated.
    At a time of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula, South Korea's government says its defense minister has been targeted in what it is calling an attempted act of “terror.”

    South Korean officials say they are taking seriously a parcel containing a threatening letter sent to Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin.

    The letter, which was sent with a white powder that turned out to be flour, threatens the defense chief with unspecified punishment if he harms the dignity of North Korea.

    Kim, known for his tough stance towards North Korea, has warned Pyongyang its military would be destroyed should it attack the South.

    The language of the letter is identical to that in hundreds of leaflets which were discovered last Friday near the defense ministry. The flyers vowed Kim would be punished for his stance toward the North.

    In recent weeks, North Korea's state-run media has mentioned the defense minister by name as a top enemy.

    Threats containing similar language were e-mailed last Friday to South Korean journalists who write about foreign affairs and national security. Lee Seok-young, director of the defector-operated Free North Korea Radio outlet, received one such e-mail.

    While defector 
    groups are often targets North Korean criticism, Lee says, this is the first time the broadcaster received such an e-mail.

    He says the e-mail is an unprecedented warning rather than a routine threat and that staff members are now being very cautious about their security and movements, but that they will never stop their activities.

    The delivery of the powder and letter to the defense ministry comes a day after threatening flyers were found at the site of a vandalized cram school [private exam-preparation school] in the city of Daegu.

    Five leaflets, found at a language institute named the American Cultural Center, warned “no single American will leave this country alive if Washington wages another war here.”

    The pamphlets were signed in the name of a group authorities say is unknown to them: the Anti-American Fascism Struggle Committee.

    Police say surveillance footage shows two masked men inside the school building who hurled bottles filled with flammable liquid, causing a small explosion.

    The school is privately owned by South Koreans and has no connection to the U.S. government.

    Media reports say soldiers of the 50th division of the South Korean Army have been dispatched to guard the outside of the nine-story building where the school is located.

    In recent months, North Korea, both in the name of high-level state organs and in official news dispatches, has disseminated a stream of invectives declaring war against the rival South and threatening a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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