SEOUL (Reuters) - Seeking to push through a sweeping “anti-terrorism” law that has been blocked by opposition parties, South Korea’s government cited on Thursday the heightened risk of North Korea instigating “terror attacks”.
The call from President Park Geun-hye’s office for parliament to pass the new security bill follows a week of tough comments and action by her government in response to North Korea’s test launch of a long-range rocket this month and its fourth nuclear test last month.
The ongoing tension with the North is looming as an election issue ahead of parliamentary polls in April, when Park’s Saenuri Party is expected to retain its majority.
The security bill proposes to establish a new anti-espionage unit that would report to the spy agency chief and will coordinate surveillance, analysis and investigation into leads that point to a possible attack.
The proposed law would give South Korea’s intelligence agency authority to monitor private communications.
The bill has met with resistance from the country’s liberal opposition parties, which say the spy agency is not politically impartial.
Building its case for more oversight, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said earlier on Thursday it believed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered his military to prepare acts against the South, including possibly kidnapping or attacking people or targeting subways or power utilities.
“(It) reported that Kim Jong Un ordered stepped up anti-South operations and that the level of threat of terrorism has never been higher,” said Kim Jung-hoon, chairman of the ruling party’s policy committee, according to a transcript provided by the party.
Kim was speaking after a briefing for his committee by top national security officials.
South Korean officials have said authorities lacked legal power to monitor and defend against possible attacks from radical groups, and the legislation was not designed specifically to defend against threats from North Korea.
South Korea has been on heightened alert for possible actions by the North, including cyberattack.
Last week, Seoul suspended operations at the Kaesong industrial complex run jointly with the North as punishment for Pyongyang’s recent rocket launch and nuclear test, both of which violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
President Park has pledged further measures against the North, reversing her earlier policy seeking dialogue and confidence-building.
“The possibility of North Korea’s anti-South terrorism becoming reality is rising to an ever-higher level,” Park’s public affairs secretary, Kim Sung-woo, said in a statement.
“We ask again that parliament swiftly pass the anti-terrorism law so that we have the legal and systematic foundation to protect the lives and property of the people.”
The spy agency has been involved in a series of political scandals over the years, and has struggled to shed a reputation for being used as a political tool by sitting presidents.
Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country after taking power in a 1961 coup, was assassinated in 1979 by his disgruntled spy chief.
The intelligence service has since then undergone two name changes and numerous organizational reforms.
Editing by Tony Munroe and Simon Cameron-Moore