Sun, October 10, 2010
World > Asia-Pacific

Top North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop dies

2010-10-10 09:05:45 GMT2010-10-10 17:05:45 (Beijing Time)

File - In this April 10, 2007 file photo, Hwang Jang-yop, a former senior member of the North Korea's ruling Workers' Party who defected to South Korea in 1997, salutes during the Committee for Democratization of North Korea in Seoul, South Korea. A police official said Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 that Hwang, 88, had died, but could not offer any additional details. South Korea's YTN television and Yonhap news agency both reported the death with YTN reporting he was found dead at his home in Seoul. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

Hwang Jang-yop, the key architect of North Korea's isolationist state policy who once mentored authoritarian leader Kim Jong Il before defecting to South Korea in 1997, has died. He was 87.

Hwang's naked body was found in a bathtub at his Seoul residence around 9:30 a.m. (0030 GMT), police said Sunday in a statement. A preliminary examination showed foul play was not suspected, though an autopsy is planned to determine the cause of death, it said.

His death came as North Korea held a massive military parade Sunday to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers' Party. Kim Jong Il and his son, heir apparent Kim Jong Un, attended the parade broadcast live on North Korean state television.

Besides being the intellectual force behind North Korea's guiding "juche" philosophy of self-reliance, Hwang was one of the country's most powerful officials when he sought asylum at South Korea's embassy in Beijing during a visit to the Chinese capital in 1997. Hwang was on his way back to North Korea from a trip to Japan to attend an international seminar.

Hwang had been close to the country's founder, Kim Il Sung — the father of current leader Kim Jong Il — and had tutored the younger Kim.

Hwang's criticism of the regime he once served earned him the moniker "human scum" in North Korean media.

Since defecting, Hwang had lived in Seoul under tight police security amid fears North Korean agents might try to take revenge. He wrote books and delivered speeches condemning Kim's government as authoritarian.

Two North Korean army majors were sentenced to prison in South Korea in July for plotting to assassinate Hwang. North Korea has denied the plot, accusing South Korea of staging it to intensify anti-Pyongyang sentiment.

Hwang shocked the world in 1997 when he and an aide sought refuge with South Korean diplomats. At the time, he was a longtime member of the country's elite, serving as secretary of the party.

The defection caused a five-week diplomatic standoff with China, which was caught between its traditional ally Pyongyang and growing trading partner Seoul.

China subsequently asked the Philippines to allow Hwang to travel there first rather than directly going to Seoul in an effort not to anger North Korea. Two South Korean fighter jets escorted Hwang's plane flying in from Manila.

Pyongyang initially accused Seoul of kidnapping Hwang and threatened unspecified retaliation, prompting South Korea to put its army on high alert. But the North later said that it had decided to banish him, calling him a betrayer.

South Koreans hailed Hwang's defection as an intelligence bonanza and one of the clearest signs that North Korea's half-century experiment with communism had failed and its political and economic systems were inferior to South Korea's.

Hwang was skeptical about international efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programs as long as Kim Jong Il remained in power.

"It is nonsense to urge the North to abandon its nuclear weapons with Kim in place," he told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview in Seoul just days after Pyongyang carried out its first underground atomic test.

Hwang rarely traveled abroad given concerns for his security, though visited the United States in 2003 and Japan earlier this year. He used the opportunities to criticize the North.

"The dictatorship of North Korea is not a problem that is limited to the Korean peninsula, but ... a problem that all the people in the world must deal with," he told AP in an interview in Washington in 2003.


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