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A North Korean ship that makes irregular visits to Japan may have been used to convey orders from Pyongyang for the attempted assassination in 1974 of then South Korean President Park Chung Hee in Seoul, sources close to police investigations said Wednesday.

The Man Gyong Bong-92, which crosses the Sea of Japan between the North Korean port of Wonsan and Niigata, was also used for relaying espionage orders between a former senior member of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), the sources said. This man, then a senior executive of a trading firm, was arrested by Japanese police on suspicion of fraud in 2000.

He is alleged to have received instructions for spying activities on the Man Gyong Bong and to have traveled to the North on the ship for contacts with spy agency officials there. Police have found drafts of letters addressed to such officials at his home, the sources said.

On Tuesday, police revealed that the 9,672-ton cargo-passenger ship was used to convey espionage orders to another man, a 72-year-old North Korean agent based in Japan and involved in spying on South Korea.

Police said it will bolster its investigations into possible spy-related activities involving the Man Gyong Bong-92, considering reports that senior North Korean espionage officials are often aboard the ship.

In the assassination attempt against Park, Mun Se Gwang, a South Korean resident of Japan, shot at the president and his wife at a ceremony on Aug. 15, 1974, marking the 29th anniversary of the liberation of the Korean Peninsula from Japanese occupation. Park survived the attempt, but his wife was killed. The gun used in the attack had been stolen from a police post in the city of Osaka.

Mun, who was sentenced to death and executed later in 1974, was believed to have received instructions related to the attack from a North Korean agent via the Man Gyong Bong, the sources said. This agent allegedly issued orders to procure a gun in Japan, they added.

Tokyo police said Tuesday that the captain of the Man Gyong Bong had conveyed orders to the 72-year-old Korean resident, who was also a former senior official of Chongryun.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Wednesday that given the allegations that the ship was used for Pyongyang’s espionage operations, the government may consider steps to restrict its entry into Niigata port.

Asked whether the government will seek to create a new law to bar the Man Gyong Bong-92, Fukuda said in a regular news conference: “It is a matter that needs to be debated in the Diet.

“But we have to keep the fact (that such suspicions exist) in mind. We will deal with the matter accordingly.”

The ship made its first call of the year at Niigata port on Jan. 15, and was met by protesters denouncing North Korea over the abduction of Japanese nationals.

Chongryun officials meanwhile said Wednesday that reports that senior members of the organization were engaged in espionage were “not a matter that concerns us” and claimed such spying activities would have been “impossible.”

“The comings and goings of the Man Gyong Bong-92 are humanitarian in nature, such as enabling visits by North Koreans in Japan to their homeland,” they said in a statement, adding that the latest allegations were falsely made and had ulterior motives.

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