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Defector Believes Pyongyang Would Not Use Weapons of Mass Destruction

North Korea's highest-ranking defector says Pyongyang will not dare to use weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, if it believes the United States and other democratic nations would stage a decisive counter-attack. In an interview with VOA, Hwang Jong Yop says Pyongyang's problems would be resolved if Kim Jong Il was removed as the country's leader. Mr. Hwang urged the United States to continue to pressure North Korea for change.

"Tell North Koreans the truth." Those words came from the slight, soft-spoken man who is the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to defect from the communist state. Hwang Jang Yop's comments were in response to a question about how best to broadcast to North Korea.

Mr. Hwang and a delegation of five other North Korean defectors were in Washington this week for meetings at the State Department, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.

"If we can tell the truth to North Koreans - what difference it is to live in the free world and live under the dictatorship, under the authoritarian regime," he said. "If we can tell the difference that will make a great difference to the North Koreans."

For more than a decade Mr. Hwang, was the president of North Korea's Supreme Peoples Assembly, the country's rubber-stamp legislature. He defected in 1997 after seeking asylum at the South Korean embassy in Beijing, leaving his family behind in Pyongyang. His defection was seen as a major intelligence breakthrough for South Korea and the United States.

Mr. Hwang told VOA that Western resolve can overcome the threat of nuclear blackmail from North Korea. He said Pyongyang would not dare use weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, if the United States and other democratic nations are united and make it clear they would stage a decisive counter-attack.

The former Pyongyang official has offered a rare glimpse into life under the totalitarian rule of Kim Jong Il, who has been in power since the death of his father Kim Il Sung nine years ago. Mr. Hwang said that North Koreans are limited in their access to information from the outside world.

"Physically they constrain, put limits to North Koreans and they also put restrictions mentally, to the North Korean minds, and they are afraid to learn about the outside world," he said. "Even though some news is coming from the borderline areas mainly from facing China. But this information is hard to go through [get] inside North Korea."

During his visit to Washington, Mr. Hwang has repeatedly called for a change in the North Korean government. His sentiment was echoed by another North Korean defector on the trip, Yun Seong-su, who fled to South Korea in 1998.

Mr. Yun said pressure from the outside at times may have to be forceful and at times gentle. But speaking through a translator, he said it is equally important that North Korea change from the inside.

"It is very important we have certain degree of changes inside North Korea by and by. So that we will have more people will have more freedom in North Korea. That will lead to change," he said.

Hwang Jang Yop says should the Kim government fall, the border between North and South Korea should not necessarily be opened right away, at least not until North Korea ensures a free flow of information inside the country.

"We have to guarantee that the free travel of the idea of democracy, and that capital and technology from South Korea to North, we have to guarantee that these flow freely into North Korea, he said. "So our first task has to put South and North Korea together over these differences and that will be the priority and until that time I think the border has to be maintained between north and south."

State Department officials have given few details of the meetings with Mr. Hwang this week, but they describe them as interesting and important.