North Korean operatives have been dispatched to Cambodia with instructions to carry out terrorist attacks on defectors as well as South Koreans visiting and living here, the South’s Korea JoongAng Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Citing a senior South Korean intelligence official who was not identified, the national newspaper reported that the operatives were working directly under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who also claimed to have sent agents to China and other Southeast Asian countries, including Laos, that have maintained diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
The threat of attacks, which would target defectors from the isolated northern regime as well as South Korean nationals, was prompted by the defection of 13 North Korean employees of a state-run restaurant in China through a Southeast Asian country that was not identified, the newspaper reported.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry said he had “no time” to comment on the issue. National and local police could not be reached for comment.
But Phnom Penh Municipal spokesman Mean Chanyada said on Wednesday that the city had not received an official request from South Korea to respond to the report.
“If there is an official request from the South Korean Embassy to us through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will take measures to strengthen security,” Mr. Chanyada said.
Korea JoongAng Daily reported that the alleged attacks would focus on religious and civic organizations that aided defectors as well as South Korean tourists and residents in the region.
Nearly 400,000 South Koreans visited Cambodia last year, according to statistics from the Tourism Ministry. The South Korean Embassy website said there are about 5,000 Koreans living here. Most reside in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Among Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia and Laos have some of the closest ties with North Korea. Cambodia’s unique relationship with North Korea dates back to the friendship between then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk and former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, forged in the 1960s while both countries were members of the Cold War’s non-aligned movement.
The prince withheld recognition of the South Korean government until his ouster in 1970. North Korea returned the favor by backing the prince’s initial resistance to the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese proxy government that replaced it. North Korea even built the exiled monarch a palace outside of Pyongyang and furnished him with a retinue of bodyguards.
A worker who answered the phone at Pyongyang Restaurant on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh said on Wednesday that South Koreans were safe and welcome at the establishment, which is run by the North Korean government.
South Korean customers would have “no problem” dining at the restaurant, she said.