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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Former spies riot in South Korea
Former spies riot in South Korea
The spies used improvised flame throwers to attack
About 500 ageing former spies have clashed with riot police in the South Korean capital, Seoul, during a protest over compensation claims.

The men, most of whom are in their 60s, say that as secret agents they were sent on highly dangerous infiltration missions to North Korea following the Korean war.

We can no longer remain silent on our forgotten past

Lee Dong-an, former spy
They say they never received the recognition or compensation promised by the government for their work.

The demonstrators used domestic gas cylinders as improvised flame throwers as they fought running battles with the police.

A government official declined to confirm or deny that spies were ever sent to North Korea.

Thousands missing

Correspondents say hundreds of South Korean secret agents were killed, and more than 4,000 are still missing, after being sent to Communist North Korea when the war ended in 1953.

South Korea riot police
The police were beaten back by the flames

The former spies, dressed in black uniforms, fought about 1,000 police with metal sticks and gas canisters, which they set fire to and used as makeshift flame throwers.

The protesters, many wearing red, blue and yellow headbands with "sent to North Korea on spy mission" written on them, shouted "we demand an apology and compensation".

The riot police were forced to retreat behind their shields until a fire truck moved in to douse the flames from the burning gas canisters.

According to AFP, once demonstrator had to be hospitalised after slashing himself with a knife in the protest.

'Broken promises'

Security forces prevented the demonstrators from marching toward nearby government buildings.

The former operatives are demanding that the government pay the cash bonuses, housing and other incentives that the government allegedly promised them in return for infiltrating North Korea between 1953 and the early 1970s.

Thousands of spies entered North Korea

"We could not speak out under duress under past governments. We can no longer remain silent on our forgotten past," said 65-year-old Lee Dong-an, who said he was sent to North Korea in 1967.

Last year, the National Assembly adopted a law to compensate the families of spies who had been killed or wounded in action.

Under the new law they are entitled to claim up to 100m won ($77,000), plus a monthly payment of 670,000 won ($515), but no compensation has been offered to those who returned unhurt.

Government officials said many of the spies received compensation paid at the end of their missions, something the former spies deny.

Experts say thousands of operatives were sent over the border to spy on the North following the civil war.

Of those about 300 were killed and more than 4,000 are still listed as missing, officials say.

See also:

08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: South Korea
23 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Spy agency 'sacks N Korea defector'
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