97293. U.S. to Question North Korean Defector
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials will get a chance to question a
high-ranking North Korean defector who recently arrived in South
Korea, DoD officials here said.
Hwang Jang Yop and his aide Kim Dok Hung sought asylum at
the Republic of Korea's consulate in Beijing more than two months
ago. They arrived in Seoul April 20 after a stay in the
North Korea "is one of the most dangerous flash points in
the world," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said on NBC Meet
the Press April 21. Cohen said Republic of Korea officials
assured him during his recent trip to Seoul that the United
States will have access to the defector "to find out more about
what's in the hearts and minds."
U.S. officials consider Hwang, North Korea's leading
ideologue -- a zealous advocate of the communist regime -- a very
important defector, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said at a
Pentagon briefing April 22. "The South Koreans have promised to
share their information with us, and they have made it very clear
we will have our own independent access to defector Hwang," Bacon
DoD officials expect to talk with Hwang in several weeks, he
said. The United States is interested in information on nuclear
weapons, military readiness, missile production and North Korean
leadership, DoD officials said.
Hwang told reporters in Seoul that North Korea is prepared
to use its "formidable armed forces" to solve its "economic
paralysis." Hwang said the North Korean people have "lost hope"
and the nation has been reduced to "a beggar country," according
to a New York Times report.
North Korea, one of the world's last bastions of communism,
is facing severe food shortages and malnutrition due to problems
caused by the tightly-controlled, centralized system, DoD
officials said. Severe flooding in the last several years have
contributed to widespread famine. Despite economic failure and
starvation among its people, North Korea has maintained powerful
Defense officials consider North Korea's military capability
troubling, Bacon said. They have the world's fourth largest army
with 1.2 million troops, he said. "Fifty percent of it is arrayed
along the demilitarized zone. They have extensive artillery
trained on South Korea. They have worked very hard to build
dangerous and threatening weapons." Their arsenal includes
chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles, DoD
DoD takes the North Korean threat seriously and is
interested in what intelligence defector Hwang can provide, Bacon
said. But, he noted, there is no evidence of increased military
"Although this is a very powerful ... military force arrayed
against the Republic of Korea and against our own forces, the
general level of exercise and training has fallen off somewhat in
the last several years from what it had been in the past," Bacon
said. "We attribute this in part to the impact of their economic
The United States is committed to maintaining 100,000 troops
to provide security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
About 37,000 troops are forward-deployed in the Republic of Korea
and another 47,000 are stationed in Japan to counter the threat
from the north.
Defense leaders beefed up these forces in 1994 in response
to North Korea's developing nuclear program, Bacon said. At the
time, U.S. officials believed North Korea had generated enough
plutonium to make at least one nuclear weapon, he said.
"We persuaded them to stop through negotiations, which led
to the Framework Agreement," Bacon said. "It is generally
believed that the North Korean nuclear program is frozen.
Although there can be no absolute assurance that it does not
already possess a small number of nuclear weapons."
The U.S. goal has been and continues to be to convince North
Korea that it is futile to look for military solutions to their
problems, Bacon said. "We believe we have a very powerful
defensive force that could respond extremely quickly with
devastating power to any attack made against us or the Republic
of Korea," he said.