Top North Korean defector dies at 87
Sunday, October 10, 2010; 12:28 PM
He graduated from the elite university named for North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and was personally close to Kim himself. He tutored Kim's son, Kim Jong Il, who rose to become the peculiar, deified leader of the isolated state.
Then, in 1997, during a visit to China, Hwang Jang-yop sought asylum with South Korea - triggering a five-week diplomatic standoff and earning him scorn from the regime back home in North Korea and the epithet "human scum" in its media.
Safely in South Korea, he spoke about the danger posed not just to the Korean peninsula but to the world by the dictatorship in the North, and said trying to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambition was hopeless so long as Kim was in power.
Hwang's naked body was found Sunday morning in a bathtub at his home in Seoul, the South Korean capital, police said. Foul play was not initially suspected, but an autopsy was planned. Hwang was 87.
His death came as North Korea held a massive military parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers' Party. Kim Jong Il and his son, heir apparent Kim Jong Un, watched as armored trucks and tanks rolled by.
Since his defection, Hwang had lived in Seoul under tight police security amid fears that 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 him. North Korea has denied the plot, accusing South Korea of staging it to intensify sentiment against the North.
In February 1997, Hwang was party secretary for international affairs and ranked 24th in the hierarchy of the reclusive North. He had attended an international seminar in Japan and had stopped in Beijing on his way back.
When he and an aide sought asylum with the South Korean diplomatic mission, it put China in an awkward position, caught between the dictatorship in Pyongyang, its traditional ally, and its growing trading partner to the south.
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, 67 days after he defected.
The North at first accused the South of kidnapping Hwang and threatened unspecified retaliation, and South Korea put its army on high alert. But the North later said that it had decided to banish Hwang, calling him a betrayer.