North Korea has ordered the assassination of a high-profile defector, who has been living in South Korea for years, the Korea Times reported Friday. Ko Young-hwan, formerly a diplomat for the North, defected in 1991 and has served as vice president of the South Korean state-run think tank, the Institute for National Security Strategy.

Ko said he has in the past been blackmailed and threatened, once receiving a blood-stained hatchet in the mail. Last month, South Korea’s intelligence agency reportedly learned of credible evidence North Korean officials had ordered Ko’s assassination. Ko is now under the protection of eight full-time, armed guards.

"Police told me not to move without guards," he told reporters Thursday. "Police seem to believe that there is an actual danger of attack."

The news came the same day the South Korean government warned that North Korea was planning “terrorist attacks” in the south. Authorities said they believe such attacks could target defectors, anti-North Korean activists and South Korean government officials.

Nearly 30,000 people are believed to have defected from North to South Korea since the 1990s. Ko reportedly defected while serving as a diplomat at North Korea’s embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defection from the North is considered a major crime. The government has sought to crack down on illegal flight from the country, ordering last year that barbed-wire fences be installed around areas where a series of defections occurred during the summer.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized the Kim family’s dynasty for its autocratic style of rule and alleged rampant human rights abuses. The country is among the most repressive in the world, human rights monitoring organizations allege, and also among the most corrupt.

The state’s government is believed to maintain secret labor camps for government opponents, where torture and starvation are routine. Religion and free speech are virtually nonexistent, and North Korea has increasingly been seen as a regional and international threat as it has stepped up its military capabilities in recent years.