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North Korean diplomat who fled London embassy identified

By Elizabeth Shim
A North Korean diplomat who once criticized Britons of being brainwashed to fear his country has defected with his family, according to multiple press reports. (UPI Photo/Hugo Philpott)
A North Korean diplomat who once criticized Britons of being brainwashed to fear his country has defected with his family, according to multiple press reports. (UPI Photo/Hugo Philpott) | License Photo

SEOUL, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- A senior North Korean diplomat who was in charge of public relations for Pyongyang's embassy in London has reportedly defected with his family, according to reports.

The official identified as Thae Yong Ho sought asylum for a "third country" that is not South Korea, the BBC reported.

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Thae, who was serving as deputy to North Korean Ambassador Hak Bong Hyon, had been living in Britain for about a decade until he recently went missing at the embassy, along with his wife and children, Yonhap reported Tuesday.

The family went missing a few weeks ago.

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Thae had been in charge of promoting North Korea to the British public. He has been on the record as saying North Korea provides free housing and accused the British of being brainwashed by their country's elite, according to the BBC.

"If the people in this country, or in America, knew that there is a country in the world, where there is a free education, free housing, free medical care, then they'd have second thoughts," he once said in response to derision from a congregation of people. "That is the reason why the mass media creates all those shocking, terrifying stories about my country."

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But while Thae outwardly championed his society, the North Korean diplomat may have been considering a permanent exit.

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Thae's children reportedly attended a nearby British public school. One of his children was active in the school tennis club.

Thae is also one of North Korea's leading experts on Western Europe, according to Yonhap.

The North Korean diplomat spent part of his childhood in China where he learned to speak English and Chinese, and became a member of Pyongyang's foreign ministry after graduation from university, according to South Korean press reports.

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