North Korean defector pleads with Pyongyang to come in from cold

 

NORTH Korea's chief ideologue Mr Hwang Jang-Yop, arrived in South Korea yesterday as a defector, appealing to Pyongyang to give up dreams of uniting the two Koreas through war and to save its starving people.

"I've already lost hope for North Korea ... the economy is paralysed and the people starving," Mr Hwang (74) said in a prepared arrival statement.

Mr Hwang's red-carpet welcome at a military air base on Seoul's southern outskirts, where massive security was in force against the threat of assassination attempts by North Korean agents, was televised nationwide in the South.

It ended a dramatic 67-day saga which began in Beijing on February 12th when he walked into the South Korean consulate, triggering a tense stand-off between the hostile North and South, then extended to the Philippines where he spent a month in a secret safe house.

The greying architect of the North's Juche (closed-door communism) ideology, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his dark three-piece suit, declared flatly in his statement that Juche had failed.

North Korea "should now come out for reform and an open door policy, and give up its ambition to unify the southern part of the peninsula by force," he said.

But Mr Hwang, born before the bitter 1945 division of the two Koreas, called himself a seeker of peace - not a defector - and vowed to devote the rest of his life to Korean reunification.

"No matter if my arrival here is called defection . . . I am ashamed to come here after I did wrong in the North," he said in a quavering voice.

The highest-ranking defector ever from the North, Mr Hwang called the reclusive regime in Pyongyang a mixture of "socialism, feudalism and militarism".

"North Korea, which has bragged about the paradise of socialism, is now begging bread from the international community," he said, as reports from aid agencies said hundreds of thousands of the North's 22 million people were on the brink of starvation.

Mr Hwang, a former teacher at North Korean leader Mr Kim Jong-Il and sometimes referred to as the "[Karl] Marx of North Korea", expressed his "immense personal anguish" over leaving behind his wife and four children.

But he said he had been compelled to obey the dictates of his conscience and "With the South Korean people devote myself to the prevention of war".

Mr Hwang gave no indication of whether he was aware of continuing discussions in New York between North and South Korea and the US aimed at opening the first peace talks between the rival Koreas to end formally the Korean War.

It was partly the fear that his dramatic defection might derail those peace efforts that pushed. China to insist that he first go to a third country, the Philippines, for a month-long cooling-off period, diplomats said.

Pyongyang, which has angrily disowned Mr Hwang, is expected to indicate today whether it will agree to proposed four-party peace talks, which would also involve China in a supporting role.

In Tokyo, the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Ryutaro Hashimoto, said he believed the defection would have a limited impact on the situation, saying "North Korea appears to be calm so far, and South Korea is not playing up the case because China is acting as intermediary."

It is thought Mr Hwang could be carrying "a political bombshell" in his luggage, in the form of a list of North Korean informants and collaborators in the South.