IN its first official response to the defection of a top diplomat who recently defected to South Korea, North Korea has slammed its envoy to the United Kingdom as a criminal and “human scum”.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday also accused Seoul of using the defection of Thae Yong Ho, formerly a minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, for propaganda aimed at insulting the North Korean leadership.
In announcing the defection, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday that Thae was the second-highest North Korean official at the embassy and is the most senior North Korean diplomat ever to defect to South Korea.
In 1997, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt fled but resettled in the United States.
A spokesman for the South Korean government earlier said the top diplomat defected because he is “sick and tired of Kim Jong-un’s regime”.
The top diplomat had defected to South Korea with his family citing his distaste for the Kim Jong Un regime and yearning for the Republic of Korea’s free democratic system and the future of his child are motives for the defection.
Thae and his family are under government protection, but the number of family members who defected was not mentioned.
Thae, who lived in London for almost a decade, is the first person to defect from the embassy, which was established in 2003. He is one of the highest-level North Korean officials to defect to South Korea.
Thae, one of five diplomats serving at the embassy – aside from the ambassador – was tasked with keeping an eye on North Korean defectors in the British capital and is reported to have been active in the local community.
Hundreds of North Koreans defect every year, many to neighboring South Korea.
Defections are a source of bitter contention between the rival Koreas, and South Korea doesn’t always make high-profile cases public. North Korea often accuses the South of kidnapping or enticing its citizens to defect.
Wednesday’s announcement came as North Korea has responded angrily to a U.S. plan to place an advanced missile defense system in South Korea. The North has warned of unspecified retaliation and fired several missiles into the sea earlier this month.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press