North Korea rejects reports of high-level defections

A South Korean activist wearing a mask depicting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un performing during a rally to welcome the opening of the UN Human Rights office in Seoul on June 23.
A South Korean activist wearing a mask depicting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un performing during a rally to welcome the opening of the UN Human Rights office in Seoul on June 23. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea responded angrily on Thursday to reports in the South Korean media about a recent spate of high-level defections and executions, calling them Nazi-style propaganda aimed at tarnishing Pyongyang's image.

The reports in a number of publications have been accompanied by speculation that the defections signal a growing instability in the North Korean leadership under Kim Jong Un.

In a lengthy commentary, the North's official KCNA news agency dismissed the reports as wild rumour and "sheer lies".

"The false propaganda ... is a foolish and base politically-motivated conspiratorial farce" aimed at giving the impression of a mood of "uneasiness and horror" within the ranks of the North's top officials, it said.

KCNA specifically rubbished a report about the recent defection of a top-ranking general to the South.

Channel A - a subsidiary of the conservative Dong-A Ilbo daily - reported last week that Lieutenant General Pak Sung Won, a deputy chief of the General Staff of the North Korean army, had escaped to Seoul via Moscow.

KCNA said the report was "sheer nonsense" and stated that Pak was currently commanding a construction project at the Masikryong Ski Resort - a pet project of the supreme leader.

The commentary also took issue with the recent report of an execution - apparently that of two North Korean students for watching pornography.

The South's media has become so adept at telling lies that it "puts the Nazis into the shade", it added.

South Korea broadcaster YTN recently reported the defection of three officials from Office 39 - a secretive government division devoted to acquiring hard-currency funds for the regime.

Yonhap news agency also published a series of articles regarding the recent defection of around 10 middle- to high-ranking officials.

None of the reports have been officially confirmed by South Korean authorities.

But the South's National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported in May that the North's defence minister, Hyon Yong-Chol, had been purged and most likely executed for insubordination and dozing off during a formal military rally.

According to the NIS, Kim has ordered the execution of more than a dozen officials so far this year, apparently for questioning his authority.