North Korea defector arrested in tent scuffle with police

Jan. 14 (UPI) — A North Korean defector was arrested Tuesday following a clash with police in Seoul, according to reports.

The defector, identified by the surname Lee, had sprinkled a flammable substance inside a tent, then attempted to inflict self-injuries with a weapon, local news service News 1 reported.

The tent had been set up in the Gwanghwamun area of central Seoul by a group who call themselves the “national gathering of Republic of Korea citizens together with South and North,” an organization of defectors, according to Yonhap.

Officials with Seoul’s Jongno district ordered the removal of the tent Tuesday, but were met with resistance from the defectors.

Police arrested the defector who attempted bodily harm on charges of interfering with law enforcement. By 2:50 p.m., the tent was removed from the site, but not before firefighters arrived at the scene.

Lee has been protesting since November, following the repatriation of two North Korean fishermen. Defectors and activists have said the men were returned to the North illegally and have demanded the resignation of South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul.

The group whose tent was removed Tuesday have been engaged in public protests since last year.

Kim Tae-hee, a member of the group, said they had sent notification to the Jongno district office of their plans for a “bigger tent,” but did not receive a response.

“In this situation, how can the police come here and remove our tent,” Kim said.

A Jongno district official told News 1 the group was ordered to dismantle their tent by Thursday, but the group went ahead with setting up a new structure.

The repatriation of the fishermen in November has polarized South Koreans. Conservatives of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party have condemned the move as a human rights violation. They are also recruiting prominent defectors to their party.

JoongAng Ilbo reported Monday Ji Seong-ho, a defector and double amputee who attended U.S. President Donald Trump‘s 2018 State of the Union Address, has been recruited to the party.

Ji said he seeks to make human rights a central party cause, according to the report.