SEOUL—The highest-ranking North Korean defector to South Korea has been found dead in his bathtub at his Seoul home.
Aged 87, Hwang Jang Yop was a former tutor to current North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and secretary to the nuclear-armed North's ruling party before he defected during a 1997 trip to Beijing. He emerged as one of Pyongyang's most bitter critics.
Hwang's naked body was found on Oct. 10 in a bathtub at his home in the South Korean capital, police said in Seoul. He had no external injuries. Foul play was not initially suspected, but an autopsy was planned.
Hwang had lived under police guard at a secret address and had received death threats from the North in the past.
"So far there is nothing to suspect that he was murdered," a police spokesman said. Footage from closed-circuit TV around his home would also be examined.
YTN television quoted sources as saying Hwang apparently suffered a heart attack. Yonhap news agency said there was no sign of a forced entry.
Defectors targeted in past
In 1997, a nephew of one of Kim Jong Il's former wives was killed outside a Seoul apartment 15 years after fleeing to the South. Officials never caught the assailants but believed they were North Korean agents.
Hwang was found dead on the day North Korea staged a huge military parade attended by Kim and his youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un.
The defector was a firm critic of what will be the communist nation's second dynastic succession and was skeptical about international efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programs.
"It is nonsense to urge the North to abandon its nuclear weapons with Kim in place," he had told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview in Seoul just days after the North had carried out its first underground nuclear test.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia in Washington in 2003, Hwang said North Korea’s defectors “will be invaluable to the collapse of Kim Jong Il's regime and to the reunification of the Korean Peninsula."
Former South Korean President Kim Young-Sam, in a statement through an aide, described Hwang as a "great patriot" who spoke out against the Pyongyang regime despite constant death threats.
Reporting by newswires.