South Korea spy unit admits kidnapping Nobel winner

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SEOUL, Oct 24 (Reuters) South Korea's spy agency today confessed to the most notorious kidnapping in the country's history, saying that in 1973 it snatched opposition leader and later Nobel laureate Kim Dae-jung in Tokyo.

Two years after narrowly losing a 1971 presidential election to authoritarian leader Park Chung-hee, Kim was abducted by South Korean agents in a Tokyo hotel and whisked to a waiting boat where, according to most versions of the story, agents planned to kill him and dump the body.

''This committee confirms that its precursor, the Korea Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), undertook a kidnapping in Japan, and expresses deep regret over this,'' the National Intelligence Service report said.

Kim was blindfolded and taken to the port city of Osaka where a group of agents put him on a boat and tied him down to a cross-shaped wooden board while debating ways to sink it.

''There is physical evidence to support the possibility that, up to a certain point, the plan had been pursued as an assassination,'' the NIS report said.

The US Central Intelligence Agency and Japanese officials learned of the plot and the United States sent what is believed to have been an aircraft to find the boat and buzz the kidnappers, intelligence officials and Kim himself have said.

With the kidnappers caught in the act, Kim's life was spared. He was later taken to South Korea and placed under house arrest by Park's pro-American government.

''It is our judgment that President Park ... at least gave a passive approval,'' the NIS panel said, but added it could not prove Park directly ordered the kidnapping of his biggest political rival at the time.

Park's government denied its involvement, but later sent its prime minister with Park's letter of regret for Japan's Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, effectively closing the case.

The report said the government Japan also bore some responsibility for the case for conspiring in a cover up.

Japan today rejected the NIS claim.

''We have expressed our displeasure, so I hope that the South Korean government would deal with that appropriately.'' Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference.

''If South Korea were to say the responsibility lies with Japan, then we cannot accept that.'' Kim was elected president in 1997 and won the Nobel Peace Prize for orchestrating an unprecedented summit with North Korea that led to improved ties between the Cold War rivals.

The kidnapping confession was a part of findings from a panel into seven high-profile cases.

REUTERS ARB SSC1253

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