Incidents and Infiltrations: Targeting South Korea
Since the division of the peninsula, North Korea has used
subversion and sabotage against South Korea as part of its effort
at reunification. Historically, the military part of this effort
has centered on military infiltration, border incidents designed
to raise tensions, and psychological warfare operations aimed at
the South Korean armed forces. Infiltration by North Korean
military agents was commonplace in South Korea after the
armistice in 1953. Over time, however, there were clear shifts in
emphasis, method, and apparent goals. P'yongyang initially sent
agents to gather intelligence and to build a revolutionary base
in South Korea.
The 1960s saw a dramatic shift to violent attempts to
destabilize South Korea, including commando raids and incidents
along the DMZ that occasionally escalated into firefights
involving artillery. The raids peaked in 1968, when more than 600
infiltrations were reported, including an unsuccessful commando
attack on the South Korean presidential mansion by thirty-one
members of North Korea's 124th Army Unit. The unit came within
500 meters of the president's residence before being stopped.
During this incident, twenty-eight infiltrators and thirty-seven
South Koreans were killed. That same year, 120 commandos
infiltrated two east coast provinces in an unsuccessful attempt
to organize a Vietnamese-type guerrilla war. In 1969 over 150
infiltrations were attempted, involving almost 400 agents.
Thereafter, P'yongyang's infiltration efforts abated somewhat,
and the emphasis reverted to intelligence gathering, covert
networks, and terrorism.
Subsequent incidents of North Korean terrorism focused on the
assassination of the South Korean president or other high
officials. In November 1970, an infiltrator was killed while
planting a bomb intended to kill South Korean president Park
Chung Hee at the Seoul National Cemetery. In 1974 a Korean
resident of Japan visiting Seoul killed Park's wife in another
unsuccessful presidential assassination attempt.
From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, most North Korean
infiltration was conducted by heavily armed reconnaissance teams.
These were increasingly intercepted and neutralized by South
Korean security forces.
After shifting to sea infiltration for a brief period in the
1980s, P'yongyang apparently discarded military reconnaissance in
favor of inserting agents into third countries. For example, on
October 9, 1983, a three-man team from North Korea's intelligence
services attempted to assassinate South Korean president Chun Doo
Hwan while he was on a state visit to Rangoon, Burma. The remotecontrolled bomb exploded prematurely. Chun was unharmed, but
eighteen South Korean officials, including four cabinet
ministers, were killed and fourteen other persons were injured.
One of the North Korean agents was killed, two were captured, and
one confessed to the incident. On November 29, 1987, a bomb
exploded aboard a Korean Air jetliner returning from the Middle
East, killing 135 passengers on board. The bomb was placed by two
North Korean agents. The male agent committed suicide after being
apprehended. The female agent was turned over to South Korean
authorities; she confessed to being a North Korean intelligence
agent and revealed that the mission was directed by Kim Jong Il
as part of a campaign to discredit South Korea before the 1988
Seoul Olympics. In the airliner bombing, North Korea broke from
its pattern of chiefly targeting South Korean government
officials, particularly the president, and targeted ordinary
Data as of June 1993