A TOP North Korean diplomat in London has defected because he is “sick and tired of Kim Jong-un’s regime”, according to a spokesman for the South Korean government.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday that Thae Yong Ho, minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, recently defected to South Korea with his family.
“We know that Deputy Ambassador Thae is saying that 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,” ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said at a new conference.
He confirmed that Thae and his family are under government protection, but declined to confirm how many family members defected.
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.
Speaking to Reuters, a North Korean official described Ho’s departure as “sudden”, adding: “If it is appropriate to give a response, then you might hear about our response.”
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.
He can be seen here addressing a meeting of the British Communist party:
A school mate of his younger son told the Guardian that he lost contact with the family in mid-July.
“We were really good friends. He was on Facebook every day and WhatsApp. Suddenly all his social media accounts went dark,” Louis Prior, 19, said.
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 Associated Press