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North Korean People’s Liberation Front (NKPLF)

Updated: Apr 10


Insurgency Overview


The North Korean People’s Liberation Front (NKPLF) is a Seoul-based paramilitary organisation founded in 2010 by defectors of the North Korean Army. It plans to overthrow the North Korean regime and in the event of an uprising, they state to be prepared to provide armed support. As of now, their activities are rather limited to information warfare, distributing censored materials into North Korea, as well as smuggling information out of the country. The NKPLF often works with other defector groups and organisations with the common goal of inducing a regime change in the country.


History & Foundations


The North Korean People’s Liberation Front was founded on 9 September 2010 by a variety of former members of the Korean People’s Army [1]. The group’s headquarters are in Seoul, and according to descriptions, it’s a nondescript office with the NKPLF’s logo on the wall, a map of Korea with a gunsight targeting Pyongyang, and several pairs of combat boots [2].

Among the NKPLF’s members, there are officers and special forces soldiers, as well as specialists in propaganda and cyberwarfare. They are not armed, although they often dress in camouflage uniforms, with sunglasses and berets, and carry plastic weapons [3]. The number of members in the organisation is unclear, as it ranges considerably depending on the source of the data. While the group seemed to be composed of around 100 men in September 2010 [4], they allegedly reached 330 members in December of the same year [5]. Yet, five years later, some reports describe the NKPLF as consisting of less than a dozen people [6]. Nonetheless, it is relevant to take into consideration that tens of thousands of North Korean defectors live in South Korea and many of them live in secret, under the protection of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of South Korea. While some members of the North Korean People’s Liberation Front use pseudonyms for security reasons, others are, to a certain degree, well-known. However, it is unclear who is actually in charge of leading the group, as various sources identify different leaders. The profiles of the known members provide a further understanding of the composition of the group.


Choi Jung-hoon is a commander of the North Korean People’s Liberation Front [7]. He studied political science in North Korea and claims to still have contacts with people working in North Korean security, military, and police. Additionally, he was an army officer in the cyber hacking unit for almost 20 years before leaving in 2006 [8]. In 2000, his brother was executed for anti-regime activities [9]. In 2006, Choi decided to flee the country, motivated by an imminent order of execution issued by North Korean authorities. The decree came after Choi was caught aiding a South Korean family in locating a man who had been abducted and taken to North Korea and helping him escape to China, in exchange for a reward of $10,000. Following the man's escape, his family held a press conference, which exposed Choi’s actions. In 2014, he survived an assassination attempt at the hands of a female agent impersonating a defector in South Korea [10]. He is said to head the North Korean People’s Liberation Front [11].

Jang Se-yul was formerly a hacker for the “automisation unit” in the North Korean army, where he was in charge of digitalizing operational strategies and collecting intelligence on the enemy’s tactics [12]. He graduated from Mirim University, a technology college where he specialised in command automisation. He defected in 2008 and is also reported to supposedly lead the NKPLF [13].


Kim Seong-min was born in 1962 and grew up and studied in Pyongyang. He served in the military as a propaganda specialist for 10 years and fled to China in 1997. He was inspired by Hwang Jang-yop, who, although in a position of senior leadership, defected that same year. After 2 years, Kim Seong-min arrived in Seoul, and in 2004 he established the Free North Korea Radio (FNKR) intending to enable North Koreans to listen to messages of freedom. In 2015, he was following a PhD programme in Seoul [14]. In a series of three videos on YouTube showing a press conference held in 2010 by the North Korean People’s Liberation Front, Kim Seong-min appears as the director of the group [15] [16] [17]. Therefore, there seems to be visual evidence that, as of December 2010, he was the chairman of the NKPLF [18]. Moreover, as director of the Free North Korea Radio, he enabled the formation of a close connection between the two organisations.


A year after its formation, the NKPLF had already established 6 networks within North Korea [19]. Such networks, of which they claim to be developing more, are composed of active duty and retired military members, as well as civilian people who share an anti-regime standpoint.


Objectives & Ideology


The NKPLF's main objective is to intervene in the case of an uprising against the regime in North Korea. They prepare precisely for the goal of crossing the border and taking up arms against the government. Their ultimate aim is to unify the Korean peninsula [20]. The main rationale behind their fight and struggle is helping those who were not able to flee, by supporting families still living in North Korea and liberating prisoners from camps [21]. To be part of the NKPLF and actively try to overthrow the regime is perceived by its members as their duty and mission as defectors [22].

In order to achieve their goals, they first intend to forcibly remove the Kim dynasty. As part of their training, a group of 20 members of the North Korean People’s Liberation Army trained on skis in the Gangwon-do mountains in order to be physically prepared for their actions. The men were led by the commander Jung Hoon-choi, who perceived this team-building activity also as somewhat relieving for those who experienced poverty and brutality in North Korea [23]. Additionally, the NKPLF had a plan, to be carried out with the group called “Group to Bring Down the Statue of Kim Il Sung”, precisely to bring down a statue of Kim Il Sung in North Korea by activating the network between the South and the North [24]. On other occasions they have manifested the ultimate aim of their training: killing the supreme leader [25]. At the time when Kim Jong-il was in power, such intention was apparent during a rally where members of the NKPLF, wearing camouflage clothes and brandishing plastic weapons, pretended to shoot a man, dressed in a grey jumpsuit and tied to a post, who was wearing a mask of the leader [26].


Regardless of the threats and dangers related to defecting from North Korea, the dissidents of the NKPLF understand that they have to continue with their actions if they seek to bring positive change to their country of origin. They perceive actively operating and organising against the Kim regime as the only way to help their compatriots [27]. As such, the NKPLF, like many other groups of defectors, is constantly under the threat of violence from the North Korean regime. For this reason, many people involved in the organisation live under protection. Nonetheless, they carry out information operations, and activism, aimed at inducing the North Korean population to undergo a process of critical revision and realisation of the reality of the regime.


The group has a strong focus on information and psychological warfare, with the aim of changing the mindset of the North Korean army [28]. One of their goals is to show media and information that is strictly unavailable to people living in North Korea. For instance, they have smuggled Chinese devices that play DVDs and content on memory sticks. Moreover, in 2014 they managed to send 6000 laptops to North Korea, and in 2015 they sent 800 copies of the movie “The Interview”. In this way, they could enable at least some North Korean residents to be able to access such media without being monitored [29]. A crucial objective of the group, and perhaps their greatest capability, is to spread truthful knowledge about the situation in North Korea and its regime. The ultimate goal of this is to change the beliefs of North Koreans [30]. For this purpose, they send anti-regime leaflets into the country and broadcast radio programs. They want to take advantage of the fact that military and police personnel in North Korea have access to phones, radios, and TVs. The group of defectors sees them as the section of the population who, once properly informed through their means of information warfare and propaganda, can be the first to turn against the regime [31]. On the other hand, they emphasize the necessity of South Korea to build and increase capabilities to be prepared and effective in the case of a confrontation against North Korea [32].

The North Korean People’s Liberation Front seems to have the intention to obtain a more recognised legitimate status in South Korea. In fact, they have been asking the South Korean government to form their own division in the special forces to help fight against North Korea [33]. Moreover, after years of stating their intention to form a political party, the NKPLF might have found its way into South Korean politics. Kim Seong-min, who has proven to be a key member of the group and able to establish a network of connections between the NKPLF and other organisations, such as the Free North Korea Radio, has been elected co-leader of the Unification Party of North and South Koreas. The political party was established in 2020 by North Korean defectors [34], and although there is no explicitly mentioned relation between the party and the North Korean People’s Liberation Front, the prominent role taken by Kim seems to hint at a possible connection between the two.

However, their objectives, according to some analysts such as Professor Namkung Young [35], seem largely unlikely to materialise. Commander Choi Jung-hoon actually admits that the goal of overthrowing the dictatorial government is rather a hope than a concrete possibility [36].


International Relations & Alliances


The group claims to be in contact with discontent officers of the Korean People’s Army, as well as with members of the police [42]. Besides their obvious enemy, the North Korean government, they also clash with leftist organisations and groups in South Korea that are in favour of the Kim regime [43]. Thus, the NKPLF organises protests against these groups.


The NKPLF is connected with and supports the actions of other similar groups. Several defector groups share comparatively similar backgrounds, objectives, needs and struggles. Therefore, a collaboration between these organisations works towards the creation of a stronger network that increases the potential to reach the common goal of influencing the North Korean population and ultimately overthrowing the regime. Some of such groups mentioned by Kim Seong-min are: Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS), and the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea [44].


Additionally, the NKPLF has sought a closer connection with the South Korean authorities. However, a formal relationship between the two, especially military cooperation, bears the risk of hindering the current situation between the South Korean government and North Korea [45].


Furthermore, some analysts have proposed a potential threat to be taken into consideration: the possibility of some defectors being in fact spies. This seems to be one of the reasons for the reluctance of the South Korean military to allow the members of the North Korean People’s Liberation Front to serve in the event of a conflict [46].


Perhaps the closest ally and collaborator of the North Korean People’s Liberation Front is the Free North Korea Radio, which broadcasts anti-regime messages into the country [47]. Kim Seong-min is in fact not only a commander of the NKPLF, but also the director of the radio [48]. Other people involved in the Free North Korea Radio seem to be related to the NKPLF. For instance, a broadcaster on the radio served food to the members of the group during the snow training exercise aforementioned, highlighting the close connection between the two [49].


Works Cited (Chicago-style)

[1] Defense Forum Foundation. September 23, 2011. “Reporting from the Front Lines on the Fight for North Korea’s Freedom and Human Rights.” Defense and Foreign Policy Forum. Moderator: Suzanne Scholte. Speakers: Kim Seung Min, Kim Young Soon, & Kim Hye Sook. https://web.archive.org/web/20150628204702/http:/www.defenseforumfoundation.org/pdf/DFFFORUM_NKDefectors_09.23.2011.pdf#7


[2] Birrel Ian. August 27, 2016. “How could our country lie so completely?': meet the North Korean defectors.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/27/north-korea-defectors-ian-birrell


[3] Ibid.


[4] Herman Steve. September 8, 2010. “Former North Korean Soldiers Vow to Overthrow Kim Family Rule.” VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/former-north-korean-soldiers-vow-to-overthrow-kim-family-rule-102526809/125496.html


[5] Mackinnon Mark. December 17, 2010. “North Korean defectors want to liberate former home.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/north-korean-defectors-want-to-liberate-former-home/article1320350/


[6] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[7] Ibid.


[8] Birrel Ian. August 27, 2016. “How could our country lie so completely?': meet the North Korean defectors.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/27/north-korea-defectors-ian-birrell


[9] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[10] Birrel Ian. August 27, 2016. “How could our country lie so completely?': meet the North Korean defectors.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/27/north-korea-defectors-ian-birrell


[11] Bond Paul. April 20, 2015. “‘The Interview’ Sequel: Inside the Frightening Battle Raging on the North Korean Border.” The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/interview-sequel-inside-frightening-battle-789873/


[12] Yoon Sangwon. June 20, 2011. “North Korea recruits hackers at school: A former hacker and a hacking tutor say North is bolstering cyberwarfare units to battle international IT powerhouses.” Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2011/6/20/north-korea-recruits-hackers-at-school


[13] Yoon Sangwon. June 20, 2011. “North Korea recruits hackers at school: A former hacker and a hacking tutor say North is bolstering cyberwarfare units to battle international IT powerhouses.” Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2011/6/20/north-korea-recruits-hackers-at-school


[14] Vaclav Havel Center. July 20, 2015. “Kim Seong Min: Heroes.” https://www.vhlf.org/havel-archives/kim-seong-min-heroes/


[15] SesameTube 참깨방송. December 12, 2010. “[북민전 기자회견] 박건하 : 북괴 방사포 무력과 임무.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tji6TgofMA


[16] SesameTube 참깨방송. December 13, 2010. “[북민전 브리핑] 김광호 : 연평도 포격 北4군단 33사단 포병과 임무.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g34prGNGo44


[17] SesameTube 참깨방송. December 13, 2010. “[북민전 브리핑] 장세율 참모장 : 北4군단 무력배치와 작전전술.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHAglxjTvUg


[18] VOA. December 12, 2010. “North Korean Defectors Ask to Help Fight Their Former Homeland.” https://www.voanews.com/a/north-korean-defectors-ask-to-help-fight-their-former-homeland--111776794/132221.html


[19] Defense Forum Foundation. September 23, 2011. “Reporting from the Front Lines on the Fight for North Korea’s Freedom and Human Rights.” Defense and Foreign Policy Forum. Moderator: Suzanne Scholte. Speakers: Kim Seung Min, Kim Young Soon, & Kim Hye Sook. https://web.archive.org/web/20150628204702/http:/www.defenseforumfoundation.org/pdf/DFFFORUM_NKDefectors_09.23.2011.pdf#7


[20] Herman Steve. September 8, 2010. “Former North Korean Soldiers Vow to Overthrow Kim Family Rule.” VOA.  https://www.voanews.com/a/former-north-korean-soldiers-vow-to-overthrow-kim-family-rule-102526809/125496.html


[21] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[22] Taguchi Emily, Chang Juju, and Mittal Pavni. March 7, 2018. “North Korean defectors arm themselves with the most powerful weapon they have: The truth.” ABCNews. https://abcnews.go.com/International/north-korean-defectors-arm-powerful-weapon-truth/story?id=53581814


[23] Ibid.


[24] Defense Forum Foundation. September 23, 2011. “Reporting from the Front Lines on the Fight for North Korea’s Freedom and Human Rights.” Defense and Foreign Policy Forum. Moderator: Suzanne Scholte. Speakers: Kim Seung Min, Kim Young Soon, & Kim Hye Sook. https://web.archive.org/web/20150628204702/http:/www.defenseforumfoundation.org/pdf/DFFFORUM_NKDefectors_09.23.2011.pdf#7


[25] Bond Paul. April 20, 2015. “‘The Interview’ Sequel: Inside the Frightening Battle Raging on the North Korean Border.” The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/interview-sequel-inside-frightening-battle-789873/


[26] Strother Jason. January 20, 2011. “North Korean defectors want more active role against former homeland.” DW. https://www.dw.com/en/north-korean-defectors-want-more-active-role-against-former-homeland/a-6411498


[27] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[28] SesameTube 참깨방송. December 13, 2010. “[북민전 브리핑] 김광호 : 연평도 포격 北4군단 33사단 포병과 임무.”YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g34prGNGo44


[29] Birrel Ian. August 27, 2016. “How could our country lie so completely?': meet the North Korean defectors.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/27/north-korea-defectors-ian-birrell


[30] Taguchi Emily, Chang Juju, and Mittal Pavni. March 7, 2018. “North Korean defectors arm themselves with the most powerful weapon they have: The truth.” ABCNews. https://abcnews.go.com/International/north-korean-defectors-arm-powerful-weapon-truth/story?id=53581814


[31] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[32] SesameTube 참깨방송. December 13, 2010. “[북민전 브리핑] 김광호 : 연평도 포격 北4군단 33사단 포병과 임무.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g34prGNGo44


[33] VOA. December 12, 2010. “North Korean Defectors Ask to Help Fight Their Former Homeland.” https://www.voanews.com/a/north-korean-defectors-ask-to-help-fight-their-former-homeland--111776794/132221.html


[34] Damin Jung. December 14, 2020. “North Korean defectors create political party.” The Korea Times. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2024/03/113_286060.html


[35] Herman Steve. September 8, 2010. “Former North Korean Soldiers Vow to Overthrow Kim Family Rule.” VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/former-north-korean-soldiers-vow-to-overthrow-kim-family-rule-102526809/125496.html


[36] Birrel Ian. August 27, 2016. “How could our country lie so completely?': meet the North Korean defectors.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/27/north-korea-defectors-ian-birrell


[37] VOA. December 12, 2010. “North Korean Defectors Ask to Help Fight Their Former Homeland.” https://www.voanews.com/a/north-korean-defectors-ask-to-help-fight-their-former-homeland--111776794/132221.html


[38] Mackinnon Mark. December 17, 2010. “North Korean defectors want to liberate former home.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/north-korean-defectors-want-to-liberate-former-home/article1320350/


[39] Strother Jason. January 20, 2011. “North Korean defectors want more active role against former homeland.” DW. https://www.dw.com/en/north-korean-defectors-want-more-active-role-against-former-homeland/a-6411498


[40] VOA. December 12, 2010. “North Korean Defectors Ask to Help Fight Their Former Homeland.” https://www.voanews.com/a/north-korean-defectors-ask-to-help-fight-their-former-homeland--111776794/132221.html


[41] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[42] Herman Steve. September 8, 2010. “Former North Korean Soldiers Vow to Overthrow Kim Family Rule.” VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/former-north-korean-soldiers-vow-to-overthrow-kim-family-rule-102526809/125496.html


[43] Defense Forum Foundation. September 23, 2011. “Reporting from the Front Lines on the Fight for North Korea’s Freedom and Human Rights.” Defense and Foreign Policy Forum. Moderator: Suzanne Scholte. Speakers: Kim Seung Min, Kim Young Soon, & Kim Hye Sook. https://web.archive.org/web/20150628204702/http:/www.defenseforumfoundation.org/pdf/DFFFORUM_NKDefectors_09.23.2011.pdf#7


[44] Ibid.


[45] Herman Steve. September 8, 2010. “Former North Korean Soldiers Vow to

Overthrow Kim Family Rule.” VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/former-north-korean-soldiers-vow-to-overthrow-kim-family-rule-102526809/125496.html


[46] Mackinnon Mark. December 17, 2010. “North Korean defectors want to liberate former home.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/north-korean-defectors-want-to-liberate-former-home/article1320350/


[47] Ibid.


[48] Hodges Michael. March 2, 2015. “Hacking North Korea: Activists are using tech – albeit balloons carrying USB copies of The Interview – to promote political reform in Pyongyang.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/hacking-north-korea/


[49] Taguchi Emily, Chang Juju, and Mittal Pavni. March 7, 2018. “North Korean defectors arm themselves with the most powerful weapon they have: The truth.” ABCNews. https://abcnews.go.com/International/north-korean-defectors-arm-powerful-weapon-truth/story?id=53581814



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