10/9/2011 North Korea (LA Times) - On a Sunday evening in August, a middle-aged South Korean pastor collapsed suddenly near a taxi stand in Dandong, a Chinese city on the Yalu River overlooking North Korea.
The 46-year-old, who used the name Patrick Kim, had a discolored complexion, spots on his fingers and limbs, flecks of foam on his mouth. He was dead by the time he reached the hospital.
The pastor was a human rights activist who secretly helped people slip out of North Korea into China. And his family and South Korean diplomats believe he was killed by North Korean agents in retaliation. The weapon of choice: most likely a poisoned needle.
"We are assuming there was a murder perpetrated. Although the evidence is circumstantial, it points strongly to North Korea," said Lee Dong-bak, a retired official of the South Korean intelligence service and now an academic in Seoul. "The poison needle has been in use by North Korean special operations for a long time."
The accusations come as North Korean state-run media have threatened retaliation against South Korean activists trying to topple Kim Jong Il's regime. The activists, many of them evangelical Christians, not only smuggle out defectors but also send anti-Kim literature and Bibles across the border, sometimes by attaching them to balloons that float across the demilitarized zone between the two nations.
Patrick Kim's death, on Aug. 21, was the first of three attacks or plots that South Korean activists or officials believe were carried out by North Korea. A day later in another Chinese city, Yanji, a South Korean involved with missionary work was standing at an intersection when he felt a pinprick in his lower back. As he collapsed, he heard a man muttering behind him in Chinese, "Sorry, sorry." He survived the attack.
Christian activists say a number of their colleagues have died mysteriously or disappeared, often while working in China.
In one of the most famous cases, in 2000, Kim Dong Shik, a missionary who was a permanent U.S. resident, was grabbed as he was coming out of a restaurant in Yanji, forced into a car and driven to North Korea. His wife, who lives in Skokie, Ill., said he is believed to have died in a North Korean prison.