It sounded like something out of a spy movie or an international political thriller. A top diplomat of North Korea, in fact the second highest ranked official in the North Korean Embassy to the United Kingdom, has taken his family and defected to South Korea, his country’s long separated half and, to this date, sworn enemy.
Thae Yang Ho was the deputy North Korean ambassador to the UK, with whom diplomatic relations were officially established only 13 years ago. According to BBC, Thae left the NK Embassy in Ealing, West London with his wife and children and disappeared, after receiving an order to return to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang at the end of his tenure. His objective on his London assignment was to speak positively of the North Korean regime to improve its image to Great Britain.
Sources say that Thae had been put under increasing pressure from his government to soften the international community’s critical opinion of North Korean human rights abuses. The impetus to this may have been BBCs recent trip to North Korea and the resulting news feature which was reported to have been negatively received by the government (BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, who made the feature, was slapped with a lifetime ban from the isolationist country and allegedly narrowly escaped being detained to be sentenced to hard labor). Pyongyang may have held Thae responsible for failing to counter the bad publicity.
A South Korean official, Jeong Joo-Hee of the South Korean Unification Ministry, then reported that the Thae family has made it to asylum in South Korea, where they are currently under government protection in Seoul. Jeong tells reporters that Thae defected due to growing dissatisfaction with the regime under Kim Jeong-Un and out of concern for his family; he thus made the perilous journey from
London to South Korea, whose democratic system he “respected”. He and his family are now going through necessary standard procedures while under government protection, he said.
Defections from the autocratic communist state to the democratic south are not as uncommon as believed. The South Korean Unification Ministry’s official website records 749 North Koreans defecting to the South in the first six months of 2016. Last April, the entire staff of a North Korean restaurant in Ningbo, China made a mass defection to Seoul, although North Korean state media describes them as being abducted by South Korean agents; ironic, given that the north was notorious internationally for abducting people all over the world.
Before his defection, Thae Yang Ho was seen by British diplomats as living a suburban life in his country’s embassy, even joining a local tennis club.
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