Seoul Defector's Harsh Comments Draw Suspicion

SEOUL, South Korea -- The script could have been written by South Korea's spymasters: a top Pyongyang defector warns of nuclear attack, links North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Hitler, calls his country "one big prison" and advocates harsh deterrence.

Indeed, some think it was.

So closely do comments made by Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranked official ever to flee North Korea, mirror the hawkish line of the security agencies that some civic groups and politicians are crying foul.

A Red Scare threatens to poison the atmosphere as South Korea and the United States try to coax Pyongyang to accept peace talks.

It also plays into the hands of the ruling New Korea Party in a presidential election year.

"For the present, there is little reason to doubt his word and his motives for defecting," said an editorial in the Korea Times, referring to Hwang's self-proclaimed mission as an ambassador for peace. "Yet, we must caution that his defection could trigger a new source of confrontation between the two Koreas."

Confirming such fears, Pyongyang on Wednesday delivered a blistering counter-punch against Hwang, calling him a "lunatic" and a "class A criminal" whose criticisms of North Korea amounted to a declaration of war.

The onslaught carried by the Korea Central News Agency was North Korea's first official word on Hwang.

Among other accusations in a document attributed to him by the Chosun Ilbo daily, Hwang said North Korea could turn South Korea into a "sea of flames" and scorch Japan in a nuclear and chemical attack.

Calculations about North Korea's firepower and the role of the military help shape South Korean and U.S. approaches towards the country.

Although Seoul officials see no direct link, Hwang's arrival in South Korea coincided with the collapse of talks in New York between the two Koreas and the United States designed to entice Pyongyang to peace negotiations.

In a harshly worded statement, a Roman Catholic group scoffed at Hwang's assertions that his mission was to promote inter-Korean peace. "You know the North Korean communist party better. We know the South Korean intelligence agency better," said the Roman Catholic Priests' Association for Justice.