Feb. 10 (UPI) -- South Korea's main opposition conservatives said a high-profile North Korean defector who fled Pyongyang's embassy in London has joined their party and will run for office in the upcoming April general elections.
Thae Yong-ho, who defected to the South in 2016 and has testified before U.S. Congress, will be a candidate running in a yet to be determined district of Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported Monday.
Kim Hyong-o, the chairman of Liberty Korea Party's election candidate selection panel, said North Korean defectors have previously served as "proportional representatives."
"This may be the first time a North Korean defector running for district office has signaled a willingness to firmly face the judgment of an electorate," Kim said, referring to Thae.
The South Korean politician also praised Thae's thirst for "freedom."
"This is a person who risked his life to find freedom," Kim said. "He has suggested a path of peace for South Korea from the standpoint of 10 million members of separated families and from the standpoint of 25 million North Korean compatriots."
Kim added Thae, who has condemned the regime in Pyongyang, has demonstrated courage and determination, while "giving hope to both North and South Koreans who want true unification."
The Liberty Korea Party and South Korea's center-right conservatives have often criticized President Moon Jae-in's policy of engaging with Kim Jong Un. Moon's administration has recently proposed independent tourism, and left-wing activists have called for the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a jointly operated factory park in the North.
North Korea has rejected offers of cooperation from the South. It has worked mostly alone in its response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China, which has killed more than 900 people.
Pyongyang's state-controlled news agency KCNA reported Monday North Korean authorities have completed inspections of major waterways, including the Tumen, Taedong and Yalu rivers.
North Korea has declared a national emergency over the coronavirus crisis.