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For 16 long years, Kim Seong-min was a soldier in Kim Jong-il's army, trained to hate the United States and South Korean troops stationed on the other side of the border, and ready to wage war against them whenever his Dear Leader asked.

Today, Mr. Kim dreams of donning a South Korean military uniform so that he can help bring down Kim Jong-il and free his former comrades in the North.

As tensions rise again on the peninsula, Mr. Kim is one of 330 defectors - all of them ex-military men - who are petitioning to serve in the South Korean army in the case of a conflict. They call themselves the North Korean People's Liberation Front.

"We don't want to fight against our former colleagues. We intend to fight instead against Kim Jong-il and the North Korean leadership," Mr. Kim said in an interview at the Seoul office of Free North Korea Radio, a U.S.-backed station that sends anti-regime broadcasts into the country by shortwave signal.

North Korean defectors have never served in the South Korean army before. While many of those who have volunteered so far are, like the 46-year-old Mr. Kim, arguably past their fighting prime, he believes they have something ordinary South Korean soldiers lack: an understanding of the enemy and an ability to operate comfortably behind their lines if the opportunity arises. "Because our hometowns are in North Korea, we believe we could enter and do things inside North Korea, even if we have to travel through China to get there," said Mr. Kim, who escaped from North Korea in 1999. "We can also teach [the South Korean military]about North Korean tactics."

The South Korean military has responded coolly so far to the proposal, worried perhaps that there are spies in the ranks of the defectors who are looking for a way to infiltrate the regular army.

Mr. Kim said the defectors came up with the idea after a North Korean torpedo allegedly sank the South Korean warship Cheonan earlier this year. They later decided to go public after watching North Korea's deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last month, an attack that has pushed the two sides closer to all-out war than they have been in decades.

The 330 would prefer to serve as a separate company in the South Korean army, he proposed. If the experiment is successful, he believes two more companies could be raised from among the 20,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea.

Part of the attraction would likely be the opportunity to draw a regular salary from the South Korean military.





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