Seoul: North Korea Sunday criticised the arrests of two men in South Korea for allegedly collecting military secrets for Pyongyang and accused Seoul of staging a “fascist crackdown”.

A 74-year-old South Korean man surnamed Lee and another with New Zealand citizenship were arrested in May for allegedly collecting information on army equipment capable of disrupting global positioning system (GPS) signals.

Seoul police said the pair obtained the military secrets after meeting a suspected North Korean agent last July in China’s northeastern border city of Dandong.

Lee was sentenced to life in prison for espionage in 1972 and was released on parole in 1990, but still retains allegiance to Pyongyang, police said after his arrest in May.

The North’s newspaper Minju Joson Sunday called the latest accusation a political smear campaign against Pyongyang to shore up sagging support for Seoul’s conservative government.

“Whenever they are faced with an extreme ruling crisis, the dictators... resort to the trite method of cooking up shocking cases including ‘spy case’,” it said in an editorial carried by the state-run KCNA.

It accused police of arresting “innocent people” as part of a “heinous plot” planned with Seoul’s conservative media outlets.

The arrests followed Seoul’s accusations that Pyongyang had jammed the GPS systems of hundreds of civilian aircraft and ships in South Korea from April 28 to May 13.

Seoul said the signals originated from the North’s border city of Kaesong, forcing sea and air traffic to use other navigational equipment to avoid compromising safety.

The North rejected the South’s accusations as “sheer fabrication” aimed at slandering the communist state.

Cross-border tension

The latest flare-up comes amid high cross-border tension as the North, under the new leadership of its young ruler Kim Jong-un, increases hostility towards Seoul.

Pyongyang has for months heaped insults on South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and other conservative leaders, branding them “rats” and “human scum”.

Last week Pyongyang’s army threatened rocket attacks on the Seoul offices of seven media outlets in revenge for critical coverage of an event in which the North’s children tearfully vowed loyalty to Kim.