Seoul cites threat from Pyongyang for anti-terror law

SEOUL • The South Korean government cited the heightened risk of North Korea instigating "terror attacks" as it sought to push through a sweeping anti-terrorism law that has been blocked by opposition parties.

South Korean officials said the authorities lack the legal powers required to monitor and defend against possible attacks from radical groups, and the existing legislation was not designed specifically to defend against threats from North Korea.

The call yesterday from President Park Geun Hye's office for Parliament to pass the new security Bill follows a week of tough comments and action by her government in response to North Korea's test launch of a long-range rocket this month and a fourth nuclear test last month.

The ongoing tension with Pyongyang is turning into an election issue, ahead of parliamentary polls in April, when Ms Park's Saenuri Party is expected to retain its majority.

The security Bill proposes to establish a new anti-espionage unit that would report to the spy agency chief, and will coordinate surveillance, analysis and investigation into leads that point to a possible attack.

The proposed law would give South Korea's intelligence agency the authority to monitor private communications.

The Bill has encountered resistance from the country's liberal opposition parties, which say the spy agency is not politically impartial.

Building its case for more oversight, the National Intelligence Service yesterday said it believed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered his military to prepare to act against South Korea, including possibly kidnapping or attacking people or targeting subways or power utilities.

"The intelligence service reported that Kim Jong Un ordered stepped-up anti-South operations, and that the level of threat of terrorism has never been higher," said Mr Kim Jung Hoon, the chairman of the ruling party's policy committee, according to a transcript provided by the party.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'Seoul cites threat from Pyongyang for anti-terror law'. Print Edition | Subscribe