The most senior member of the North Korean government to
defect to South Korea was found dead at his home in Seoul on Sunday morning,
local news media reported, citing police officials.
The defector, Hwang Jang-yop, 87, was the North’s former
chief ideologue and a mentor to the current leader, Kim Jong-il. His death came on the same
day that the North held a massive military parade in the capital, Pyongyang.
The parade, attended by Mr. Kim and his youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, marked the 65th anniversary
of the founding of the Workers’ Party, which Mr. Hwang had helped to establish.
Mr. Hwang, who defected in 1997, was a bitter and
outspoken critic of the North Korean government, and he said he was the target
of several assassination plots by the North over the years.
In June, a South Korean court sentenced two North Korean
army majors to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to murder Mr. Hwang. The
officers had entered the South by posing as defectors, prosecutors said.
But police officials said Sunday that Mr. Hwang appeared
to have died of natural causes, apparently suffering a heart attack during his
morning bath. The Yonhap News Agency said there were no signs of a break-in at
his home and that a security guard had been on duty.
Mr. Hwang was a leading member of North Korea’s Communist
government, serving as president of Kim Il-sung University and secretary of the
ruling Workers’ Party. He is said to have been the principal theoretician
behind the nation’s guiding policy of “juche,” or self-reliance.
In the early 1980s, however, he began to fall out of
favor, and after becoming estranged from Kim Jong-il, he defected in Beijing
while returning from a trip to Tokyo. He sought sanctuary in the South Korean
Embassy in Beijing, and was eventually allowed to leave the country despite
protests from North Korea.
After he defected, Mr. Hwang’s wife and one daughter are
believed to have committed suicide. His son and another daughter, and his
granddaughters, were reportedly sent to prison labor camps.
Mr. Hwang spent his initial years in the South under
virtual house arrest, guarded by government agents. He later came to write
books, make speeches and work with activist groups.
“North Korean society has turned into a dark world of
totalitarianism highlighted by hereditary succession of leadership and feudal
patriarchy,” Mr. Hwang wrote in 2003. “The upshot of all this is famine and
mass exodus of its people, while the regime spends hundreds of millions of
dollars to build the mausoleum for Kim Il-sung’s dead body.”