Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 12:01 UK

N Korea 'hired taekwondo killers'

Choi Jung-hwa in Seoul
Choi Jung-hwa says he returned to Seoul to clarify past misunderstandings

A master of the ancient martial art of taekwondo says North Korean agents recruited him in a failed plot to kill a South Korean president.

South Korean-born Choi Jung-hwa said North Korean spies infiltrated a global taekwondo body and ordered its members to kill Chun Doo-hwan in the 1980s.

Mr Choi made the claim as he returned to Seoul after living abroad for years.

He is unlikely to be punished over his alleged links to Pyongyang, a South Korean prosecutor told AP news agency.

The senior prosecutor, Oh Se-in, was quoted as saying Mr Choi would be cleared of most of the suspicions as the statute of limitations had expired and he had chosen to return to South Korea voluntarily.

'Unintentionally involved'

Mr Choi has spent much of his life in Canada, home to a branch of the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), set up by his late father, Choi Hong-hi in 1966.

Choi Hong-hi moved to Canada in the 1970s after a row with the South Korean government of the time.

I have committed some wrongs whether it was my intention or not... I should pay for what I have done
Choi Jung-hwa

According to Choi Jung-hwa, North Korean agents infiltrated the federation and instructed experts in the martial art - including himself - in a plot to assassinate President Chun, who governed South Korea for much of the 1980s.

"I was unintentionally involved," Choi Jung-hwa said on his return to Seoul. "I think that's because of my political naivety or spirit of adventure."

He told the Korea Times newspaper he had hired two agents to shoot President Chun during a 1982 visit to Canada.

The plot was reportedly uncovered, forcing Choi Jung-hwa to flee to eastern Europe and eventually to North Korea.

He returned to Canada in 1991 and was released after serving one year of a six-year jail term, his aide told AP.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, Choi Jung-hwa returned to South Korea to clarify misunderstandings about his past.

"I have committed some wrongs whether it was my intention or not," the papers quoted him as telling reporters. "I should pay for what I have done."

Sporting rivalry

After the death of Mr Choi's father in 2002, a schism erupted in the ITF, with rival camps based in Canada and Austria laying claim to his legacy.

Choi Jung-hwa, who lead the Canada-based branch of the ITF, accused Pyongyang of trying to take over the Vienna wing of the body.

The ITF is regarded with suspicion in South Korea, which follows rules laid by an alternative authority for the sport, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).

WTF-style taekwondo was adopted at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as the approved form of the sport.

Taekwondo is a national sport in South Korea and all the country's soldiers are trained in the martial art.

Choi Jung-hwa's return to South Korea coincides with the 60th anniversary of the foundation of North Korea, which remains officially at war with its southern neighbour.

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