March 13 (UPI) -- A high-profile North Korean defector running for a seat in the South Korean parliament condemned a fellow politician in his own party, following reports of disapproving remarks.
Thae Yong-ho, the former North Korean diplomat who fled Pyongyang's embassy in London in 2016, called politician Kim Chong-in a "backstabber," South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo reported Friday.
The controversy began when Kim, a veteran politician who previously served as the chairman of the Emergency Planning Commission for the now ruling Democratic Party of Korea, and the current standing chairman of the main opposition United Future Party, had said Thae's nomination is a "national disgrace," according to local news service News 1.
Kim had also said Thae "had no roots in South Korea," referring to his North Korean origins.
Thae has said if he is elected, his rise in the South Korean political field would send positive signals to members of the North Korean elite, people like himself, who may be apprehensive about their prospects under a South Korea-led unification.
Kim's remarks are being met with anger from leading conservatives in the United Future Party.
Rep. Shim Jae-chul said Kim had made a "very inappropriate remark" regarding Thae ahead of April general elections.
"Former Minister Thae is a citizen under the Constitution of the Republic of Korea," Shim said. "After resettling in South Korea, he has told the outside world and South Korea about the stark reality of North Korea."
Shim also said Thae's candidacy signals progress for South Korean politics. Defectors in the past have been appointed to parliamentary seats by party members; Thae is the first defector to run for office.
Lee Joon-seok, another main opposition conservative, sent a message of assurance to Thae that his party stands by his candidacy.
"Your feelings may be hurt, but please don't mount a smear campaign," Lee said in a Facebook post addressing Thae.
Thae has expressed disbelief following Kim's remarks.
"Kim's comments are like a stab to the back, to a candidate who is doing his best on the election front," Thae said Friday. "I have never committed a crime or made derogatory remarks. I have never received bribes."