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North Korea hints at accepting Hwang's defection

Latest developments:

(CNN) -- North Korea indicated Monday that it could accept the defection of Hwang Jang Yop, the highest-ranking official to flee the communist state to seek asylum in South Korea.

Another prominent defector, Lee Han-young, a nephew of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's ex-wife, remained in a coma after being critically wounded Saturday by suspected North Korean agents near Seoul.

Hwang, a founder of communist North Korea, sought asylum in Seoul's consulate in Beijing last Wednesday. He turned 74 Monday.

kim

'If he sought asylum, he is a renegade'

North Korea initially refused to accept his defection, accusing South Korea of kidnapping him and threatening to retaliate.

But in a statement quoted by North Korea's official news agency, an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday: "Our stand is simple and clear. If he was kidnapped, we cannot tolerate and we will take decisive countermeasures. If he sought asylum, it means that he is a renegade and he is dismissed."

The North Korean spokesman told the news agency that the North asked China to investigate the "disappearance" of Hwang, who once was the private tutor of Kim.

Monday's "comment seems to imply that North Korea will accept it if independent parties, like the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, rule that Hwang is a political defector," said Kang Ho-yang, spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry.

embassy

No decision from China

China kept silent Monday on Hwang's fate. Heavily armed police backed by an armored car and water cannons guarded the South Korean consulate.

Challenged several times by North Koreans keeping a vigil outside the consulate, police blocked surrounding streets with their cars and tire-shredding spikes.

With so many North Koreans living in Beijing, Chinese military police are also stationed outside South Korea's embassy, located in a high-rise building some distance from the consulate.

As China considers whether to allow Hwang to leave, it faces a dilemma, Korea analyst Kryzstof Darewicz told CNN.

He said Bejing must decide whether it's best to improve growing commercial ties with Seoul or continue with ideological ties to communist North Korea, a longtime ally on whose side China fought in the 1950-53 Korean War.

security

South Korea boosts security

Seoul officials believe that Pyongyang ordered the attack on Lee, 36, in retaliation for Hwang's defection. Lee, whose real name is Lee Il Nam, defected to South Korea in 1982.

Security around South Korea's ports, airports and other public places has been beefed up and 10,000 police and soldiers searched for the two suspected North Korean agents who shot Lee.

"The North's reprisal has pushed us into a dilemma," Ban Ki-moon, President Kim Young-sam's national security adviser, told South Korea reporters.

But Ban said his country will respond to a U.N. appeal for fresh humanitarian aid for North Korea, as well as sending a team of technicians to survey the site in North Korea where two nuclear reactors are to be built under a 1994 U.S.-North Korean accord.

Correspondents Rebecca MacKinnon and Sohn Jie-Ae and Reuters contributed to this report.

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