[SEOUL] The possibility of a terrorist attack or other provocations by North Korea is increasing as Kim Jong Un's regime struggles to stem defections of key government officials, South Korean President Park Geun Hye said at a national security meeting Monday.
The defections signal a "serious fracture" within the North Korea's regime, escalating the prospects of provocation as Mr Kim tries to maintain control, Ms Park said. Her comments come as South Korea and the US began their annual military drills.
South Korea's Unification Ministry announced last week that a senior North Korean diplomat based in the UK had defected to the South. Thae Yong Ho, the second highest-ranked official at the North Korean embassy in London, was among seven diplomats who have defected this year, according to Joongang Ilbo newspaper, which cited government officials.
The Unification Ministry said Sunday the reasons for the defections have changed mainly from economic to political, suggesting unrest within North's regime. Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee said Mr Thae told South Korean officials that he defected because of his disillusionment with Mr Kim's regime.
The latest comments by Ms Park are likely to escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. North Korea on Monday decried the two-week long military exercises and threatened a "pre-emptive" nuclear attack on the "slightest sign of aggression."
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is so tense that a nuclear war may break out any moment," the state-run Korean Central News Agency, citing a statement from the General Staff of the Korean People's Army.