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South Korea indicts activist for attacking US envoy

South Korean authorities have indicted a man for attempting to murder the US ambassador to Seoul, Mark Lippert. The US envoy received multiple injuries to his face and arm during the Mach 5 attack.

South Korean Political activist Kim Ki-jong, 55, was also charged with violence against a foreign envoy and business obstruction on Wednesday, according to an official at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.

The official, who did not want to be named, told the Associated Press news agency that Kim's trial was likely to commence as early as next week. It was too early to comment on the possible penalties Kim could face, he added.

Lippert was attacked on March 5 at a breakfast function in the South Korean capital. According to witnesses, Kim lunged at Lippert across a table with a 25-centimeter (10 inch) long paring knife, slashing the US official's face and hand.

The ambassador underwent treatment for two and a half hours by plastic and orthopedic surgeons in Seoul, after which his condition was described as stable.

Kim said he did not want to kill the 42-year-old US envoy.

'Links' with North Korea

The police are investigating whether Kim's assault on Lippert was due to his alleged links with the communist North Korea.

During the assault, Kim shouted slogans in favor of the Korean reunification. Later, he proclaimed his opposition to US-South Korea military drills. He has long opposed the US military presence in South Korea.

Kim visited the North six times between 2006 and 2007 alone, according to intelligence sources cited by the South Korean news agency, Yonhap.

Investigators established that Kim had made seven visits to North Korea between 1999 and 2007 and that he even tried to erect a memorial to Kim Jong-Il in the South Korean capital Seoul after the late North Korean dictator's death.

"We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect's visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the US ambassador," Seoul's police chief Yun Myung-sung told reporters on March 6.

Kim denies the allegations and says he did not attack the US ambassador on orders from North Korea. He also claims he has never even visited the North.

Inadequate security for foreign diplomats

According to the police, the suspect had a long history of violent protests. In 2010, he tried to attack the Japanese ambassador to South Korea by throwing a piece of concrete. Most recently, Kim was under investigation by Seoul prosecutors after allegedly assaulting at least one public employee at a concert in January.

The attack also raised safety worries in a city with a reputation as a relatively low-risk diplomatic posting, in spite of regular threats of war from North Korea.

shs/jil (dpa, AP)

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