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Kim Jong Nam's assassination by VX and the 'Sunchon Incident' of 1989

Choi Song Min  |  2017-03-04 11:16

Choi Song Min was formerly a high-ranking military cadre in North Korea before defecting to the South.

Suspicions that North Korea maintains a stockpile of biochemical weapons have been raised since the Malaysian authorities confirmed that VX, a deadly nerve agent, was used to kill Kim Jong Nam.

VX is the most powerful nerve agent known and is classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

Some estimate that North Korea has stockpiled approximately 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, but this takes into account only the material manufactured from early 2010. Considering that the country was reported to have begun manufacturing chemical weapons since the 1970s, the total amount possessed is likely to be higher.

Decades ago, Dr. Ri Sung Gi was a renowned chemist who invented Vinalon, a lightweight synthetic fiber, ushering in a small textile revolution in North Korea. However, reports allege that Kim Il Sung secretly ordered Dr. Ri to kickstart the countrys biochemical weapons program, with the chemist having no choice but to comply.

Dr. Ri died while being criticized by many North Korean residents, rather than being recognized for his contribution to the countrys economic development.  

The reason for the criticism is that in 1989, there was an incident in which scores of people died instantly or collapsed in the streets of Sunchon City, South Pyongan Province, and were transported to hospital. I arrived in the city the next day and was unaffected, but at the time, all hospitals in Sunchon City and neighboring Pyongsong were full of injured people, some of whom were even transferred to Pyongyang. 

It was later revealed that some local residents inadvertently precipitated the incident after climbing onto a tank car stationed at Sunchon Railway Station. They opened the lid, thinking it contained diesel oil [to siphon off] but it was in fact a toxic precursor purportedly for use in the manufacture of biochemical weapons. 

Soon after the lid was opened, a cloud of yellow gas spread into the air, and the people nearby immediately collapsed, with hundreds of people dying at the scene in the span of only a few hours. Thousands were injured and left with gruesome side effects, but the authorities primarily focused on preventing the news from spreading to other regions. 

Now, 30 years on, state institutions including the Hamhung branch of the State Academy of Sciences are reportedly continuing their research into the development of chemical weapons.

The North Korean government transformed its domestic chemical industry into a producer of weapons of mass destruction for its own nefarious purposes. The international community must respond appropriately to a regime that resorts to the use of a weapon of mass destruction in a public place to secure its reign of terror. 

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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