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From brainwashed North Korean assassin to espouser of freedom in South Korea

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

In the dark days of the winter of 1968, he was part of a commando squad that breached a heavily mined strip of land to carry out a set of grisly orders, among them: Eliminate Park Chung-hee, then president of South Korea.

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Today, Kim Shin-jo, the sole survivor of that squad, looks like any other South Korean grandfather: fastidiously attired, cuddly, and armed only with a smile. 

His disarming appearance aside, Mr. Kim once cast quite a different figure when he admitted on national TV all those years ago that he had come “to cut the throat” of the president.

His is a story of transformation, from a brainwashed communist revolutionary to an advocate of democratic freedoms and justice. 

He became a pastor at a Presbyterian church near Seoul, having turned to Christianity not long after a pardon was granted following his 1968 capture. Kim also advises the governing Grand National Party on North Korean human rights issues. Indeed, for would-be assassins, he hopes mercy can be granted as it was to him.

“In general, these defectors usually act out of fear for their lives and for their family’s lives back in North Korea,” says Kim. Though he believes they should be punished, he says “should they repent and start to see the error of their ways,” they should “be forgiven and eventually pardoned.”