SEOUL — SOUTH Korean security agents swarmed onto a Northwest Airlines jetliner to arrest a leading South Korean dissident upon his return from a controversial trip to North Korea. The Rev. Moon Ik Hwan, a 71-year old pastor, was whisked away to an undisclosed location, along with Yu Won Ho, who accompanied him on a 10-day trip to Pyongyang. Officials said the two will be charged with violations of provisions of the National Security Law, specifically for supporting North Korean aims. Mr. Moon could face up to 10 years in prison.
The government deployed thousands of riot police to curb planned demonstrations in support of the anti-government activist. While police barred entry of supporters into the airport, several thousand students and dissidents rallied at Seoul's Yonsei University. Riot police arrested at least 50 demonstrators when they sat in at the gates of the campus.
Moon's clandestine visit began March 25 and included two extensive meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung. The trip raised a storm of protest in the South and widespread disapproval for Moon's apparently uncritical attitude toward the North.
In a meeting with reporters in Tokyo before returning home, the long-time anti-government activist defended his trip as a ``people to people'' effort to promote the reunification of the bitterly divided country. ``I return with pride for the mission accomplished,'' he said.
At the conclusion of his trip, Moon issued a joint statement with North Korean officials outlining principles for reunifying the country. He told reporters that ``to build mutual trust'' he would not criticize any North Korean policies.
The South Korean government, and the major opposition parties, have condemned this free-lance effort. ``What Mr. Moon did was a real frontal assault against the authority of the government, which is to conduct foreign relations,'' Minister for Legislation Hyun Hong Choo told the Monitor earlier this week.
Moon's arrest has been accompanied by a broader assault on left-wing activity. In recent days, authorities have arrested several leaders of Chonminnyon, the dissident National Coalition for a Democratic Movement, charging them with aiding Moon's trip. On Wednesday two university professors were taken in on related charges.
The current crackdown, says Mr. Hyun, is a ``surgical operation to eliminate radical forces from legitimate opposition to the government.'' He points to a flood of openly pro-North Korean literature, particularly on college campuses. Open admiration by students of Mr. Kim is not unusual, some professors say.
Government officials claim the majority of Koreans support a curb on labor unrest and radical protest which are a threat to stability. Human rights and opposition groups warn the government is threatening democratic reforms.