Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A North Korean fishing vessel that was located by South Korean authorities in December 2018 was carrying dissidents who had attempted to assassinate Kim Jong Un, according to a former Japanese military official.
The December 2018 interception at sea was overshadowed at the time by an incident involving a Japanese patrol aircraft and a South Korean warship.
Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, former chief of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with an editor of Shukan Gendai, a Japanese weekly, the boat intercepted on Dec. 20, 2018, was carrying North Korea military officers who had attempted to slay the North Korean leader.
According to Kawano, the South Koreans deployed the Gwanggaeto, the Great-class destroyer, following emergency communication from the North via the newly established inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. The North Koreans requested the boat to be returned, but the people on board were fleeing the regime following a foiled plot.
"Attempts by the North Korean military to assassinate Chairman Kim Jong Un in the Wonsan-Kalma region had been unsuccessful. Four people escaped that day and were headed to Japan by sea," Kawano said.
The South Korean ship that was deployed later became the center of a dispute with Japan, when a Japanese aircraft, the Kawasaki P-1, flew near the warship. Japan has said the South Korean naval ship targeted the Japanese aircraft with fire-control radar. Seoul has denied radar targeting.
South Korea repatriated three North Koreans and one body after intercepting the North Korean vessel, according to CBS No Cut News. Kawano said that the repatriated men could have attempted to kill Kim, but the theory remains unverifiable.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Kim frequently visited the Wonsan-Kalma region, where a beach resort is under construction.
The North Korean leader could be seeking fresh political blood in the aftermath of a typhoon, floods and the coronavirus pandemic.
Korean Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Tuesday the government is pursuing "generational change" among party members.
Kim recently replaced members of his Politburo.