North Korea may be planning assassinations and kidnappings in revenge for recent defections, according to Seoul.
An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the defection of North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London Thae Yong Ho and his family was among those that had put the North in “a very difficult situation”.
“Considering (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Un’s character, it is very dangerous,” said the unidentified official.
“It is highly likely that North Korea will make various attempts to prevent further defections and unrest among its people.”
The official said assassination attempts on defectors in the South and the kidnapping of South Koreans overseas were possibilities.
He said there had been attempts to kill Hwang Jang-Yop, former tutor to the previous leader Kim Jong-Il, who defected to South Korea in 1997 and died of natural causes 13 years later.
Last week Thae Yong Ho became the highest-ranking diplomat to defect to South Korea, reportedly saying he was unhappy with the regime in Pyongyang and wanted better for his family.
North Korea responded by describing him as “human scum”, adding accusations that he had embezzled state funds, raped a child and spied for the South.
State news agency KCNA said: “He deserved a legal punishment for his crimes but he took flight, betraying his country and parents and other kith and kin.
“He thus revealed himself as human scum bereft of elementary sense of moral obligation and conscience.”
Defections are a source of contention between the rival Koreas – North Korea says Seoul kidnaps or entices its citizens to defect and South Korea sometimes keeps silent on high-profile cases.
The North has already responded angrily to a US plan to place an advanced missile defence system in South Korea, warning of retaliation and firing several missiles into the sea earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang said it has no plans to stop nuclear tests as long as perceived US threats remain.