Top Defector Warns About Korean Plot

SEOUL, South Korea -- A top Pyongyang defector warned Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had rejected reform in his hunger-stricken nation and was plotting a lightning war against the South as his only escape.

But Hwang Jang-yop, a leading communist theorist before fleeing to Beijing in February, conceded he had no proof for an earlier claim that the North could launch a nuclear attack.

"The north's war preparation is beyond imagination," he told his second news conference since arriving on April 20 via China and the Philippines.

But pressed to back up his earlier assertion that North Korea could "scorch" South Korea, and even Japan, with nuclear arms, Hwang conceded: "I don't really know."

"It is common knowledge they do have these weapons, but there is no means to verify that."

Meanwhile, a United Nations agency stepped up efforts to save tens of thousands of North Korean children from starvation by launching a new appeal for $46 million in food aid.

The United States, trying to coax the North into peace talks, said it was seriously considering the appeal.

Hwang, who has spent the past several months being debriefed by South Korea and U.S. spy operatives, predicted Kim would formally take over as general secretary of the all-powerful Workers' Party after the summer.

North Korea on Tuesday declared an end to a three-year mourning period for Kim's father, "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, paving the way for Kim junior to assume top posts.