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North Korean diplomat defected to South Korea, Seoul says

Thae Yong Ho was feeling a sense of “disgust” with the Kim Jong Un regime, according to a South Korean government spokesman.

By
Elizabeth Shim
A North Korean diplomat who defected from London is now in South Korea, according to Seoul. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
A North Korean diplomat who defected from London is now in South Korea, according to Seoul. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The North Korean diplomat who fled from Pyongyang's embassy in London arrived "recently" in South Korea, according to Seoul.

South Korean unification ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said North Korean official Thae Yong Ho and his family are in the South, local news service Money Today reported Wednesday.

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"They are currently under protection, and the relevant agencies are taking steps in accordance with the required procedures," Jeong said.

Thae, who was in charge of promoting North Korea to the British public, was also No. 2 in seniority at the embassy, according to South Korea press.

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He is also the highest-ranking North Korean diplomat to defect to the South, according to Seoul.

Jeong also told reporters Wednesday Thae was feeling a sense of "disgust" with the Kim Jong Un regime, and defected to the South because of the "free democratic system of the Republic of Korea" and for the sake of his children's future.

"If you look at diplomatic minister Thae's defection it appears that among North Korea's core class sentiments like, 'There is no more hope for the Kim Jong Un regime' and 'The North Korean regime has already reached its limits,' are spreading," the spokesman said, according to local newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun.

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Thae's exit marks the fourth diplomatic defection in the last two years. Other high-profile defectors in recent months have included a military general and a North Korean math prodigy.

A South Korean government official who spoke to the Kyunghyang on the condition of anonymity said Thae's first-choice destination was the United States.

Thae may have been considering the United States because he wanted to avoid the pressures to make public appearances in the South, which may endanger the safety of his relatives in the North, according to the report.

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Thae was a trusted member of the North Korean elite, and was seen in 2015 accompanying Kim Jong Chul, brother of Kim Jong Un, to an Eric Clapton concert in London.

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