The North Korean Foreign Ministry softened its tone Monday and hinted it was resigned to the defection of a top party official who has sought refuge in the South Korean consulate here.
The statement is in sharp contrast to earlier North Korean statements insisting that the official, Hwang Jang Yop, had been kidnapped and warning of retaliation if he were not released.
The incident threatened to develop into a major diplomatic crisis with China, which is trying to maintain friendly relations with both Koreas, caught in the cross fire. "If he was kidnapped, we will take decisive countermeasures," North Korea's official news agency quoted the unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying. "If he sought asylum, it means that he is a renegade and he is dismissed." The spokesman said North Korea had asked China to investigate Hwang's "disappearance." Kang Ho-yang, spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, said the comment indicated that North Korea was abandoning its earlier position in which it had rejected Hwang's defection as "inconceivable and impossible." Hwang, 73, the highest-ranking North Korean to defect, drove up to the consulate in a taxi Wednesday and asked for asylum. He is a key communist theoretician and once was the private tutor of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. After the defection, Chinese troops with automatic weapons laid tire-shredding spikes in the streets around the consulate and guarded the building. Their security measures increased as the standoff dragged on. North Korean agents staked out the consulate. They ended their stakeout Monday. …