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World

North Korea Condemns Raid On Its Embassy In Spain

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Over a month ago, there was a raid on North Korea's embassy in Spain. North Korea was silent on the whole thing until now. An obscure group claimed responsibility for the break-in and declared a revolution against the North Korean government. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Seoul that whether they succeed or not, the group's very existence raises important questions.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Just days before President Trump was due to meet Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, 10 intruders armed with knives and replica pistols entered the embassy and tied up North Korean diplomats. Spanish authorities say the assailants left with computers and cell phones and headed to the U.S. Washington has denied any involvement in the raid. Yesterday, the official Korean Central News Agency called it a serious act of terrorism. Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies expert at The Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., says it can't be easy for North Korea's leaders to admit that their embassy got infiltrated like this.

SUNG-YOON LEE: The myth of invincible, unassailable, infallible, omnipotent leadership - that would be shaken.

KUHN: A group of defectors known as Free North Korea says it was behind the raid. Two years ago, the group's forerunner claims to have taken Kim Jong Un's nephew Kim Han Sol under its protection. In a March 1 video, a woman whose faces obscured reads the group's declaration of revolution and the establishment of a government in exile.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "We the people of North Korea," she says, "indict this immoral and illegitimate regime for the starvation of millions, despite the ability to feed them, and for government-sponsored murder, torture and imprisonment."

Free North Korea's call for revolution stands in sharp contrast to Seoul and Washington's current policies of engaging and negotiating with Pyongyang. Sung-Yoon Lee says there are no signs of imminent regime collapse. And defector groups are no match for North Korea's security apparatus. But he says that throughout history, revolutionaries who fail often inspire others who succeed.

LEE: The historical symbolism of resistance, not having just been content to be subdued, to remain passive - I think that's the historical significance.

KUHN: Kim Jung-bong (ph), a former South Korean intelligence official, says that even if the Pyongyang regime falls, that doesn't mean the defector groups or even the South Korean government can just step in and set up a new one.

KIM JUNG-BONG: (Through interpreter) North Korea still has a strong military and security agencies that control its citizens. The entire government system will not be eradicated. I think a new government will emerge from within North Korea.

KUHN: Spanish authorities identify the leader of the Madrid Embassy raid as a man named Adrian Hong Chang. Park Sang-hak, the director of the Seoul-based Association of North Korea Human Rights Organizations (ph), says he's worked with Hong Chang, sending anti-government leaflets into North Korea.

PARK SANG-HAK: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "He's less like the leader of a civic group and more like a soldier on a battlefield, bold and combative," he says. "He's a very charismatic leader."

Spain has issued international arrest warrants for the embassy raiders. Free North Korea says on its website that it's suspending operations for now but is planning big moves for the future. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "KOOL IN THE SUMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.