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Seoul's ex-spy chief claims of hotline with Kim Jong Il ignites dispute

Revelations of a secret phone line between former President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has rattled the South Korean public.

By Elizabeth Shim
Seoul's ex-spy chief claims of hotline with Kim Jong Il ignites dispute
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, at an Oct. 4, 2007 summit in Pyongyang, North Korea. A former intelligence chief in Seoul said the two leaders shared conversations but never directly over a hotline that was terminated in 2008. File Photo by KCNA/Yonhap

SEOUL, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- A direct hotline was established between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, but the two leaders never spoke to each other directly, according to a former Seoul spy chief.

Kim Man-bok, formerly of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, told South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo on Friday the two heads of state shared conversations about an Oct. 4, 2007 summit and that the line was established during Kim Dae-jung's presidency but terminated after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak assumed office in 2008.

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Revelations of the secret phone line has rattled the South Korean public, and Kim Man-bok may be found in violation of a law that penalizes intelligence officials from breaking confidentiality. South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh reported opposition party lawmaker Park Ji-won sent a tweet dismissing Kim Man-bok's claims, and said, "There was no hotline communication between President Kim Dae-jung and Chairman Kim Jong Il."

Park had served as the chief presidential secretary under Kim Dae-jung.

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On Friday in Seoul, Kim Man-bok clarified his earlier statements. Yonhap reported Kim told a former unification minister at a symposium that a line did exist, but there were never any direct conversations between Roh and Kim Jong Il.

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The hotline instead was established at the office of the National Intelligence Service and was operational 24 hours a day, according to Kim Man-bok. Any call from the North was understood to be a direct missive from Kim Jong Il, and all messages were delivered promptly to the South Korean president, Kim said.

Kim said South Korea press reports had generated misunderstanding about the hotline and its management, and that Seoul needs to carry out the pledges of the Oct. 4, 2007 Declaration between North and South, which included agreements to promote and expand joint economic, military and family reunion projects, as well as a plan to replace the current armistice with a peace treaty.

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On Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong urged the United States to sign a peace treaty that could prevent future wars on the Korean peninsula.

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