North Korea’s No. 2 Diplomat in London Defects to a South

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Thae Yong-ho in 2014. He defected to South Korea, apropos a highest-ranking North Korean diplomat to forsake given 1997.

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Katie Schubauer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEOUL, South Korea — He enjoyed a bit of tennis during a inner club. He indulged in curry during an Indian grill in a west London area where he lived. As a No. 2 North Korean diplomat in Britain, he chaperoned a hermit of his country’s reserved personality to an Eric Clapton unison final year.

The diplomat, Thae Yong-ho, 55, seemed to welcome a accoutrements of a gentle life in a entrepreneur collateral thousands of miles from dull North Korea, never hinting during disloyalty. He had lived in London for a decade, devoted since of his family’s exquisite bequest in North Korean history.

So it was a startle on Wednesday when South Korea announced that Mr. Thae had tricked his closed homeland by apropos a many comparison North Korean central to forsake in scarcely dual decades.

How and when a diplomat had eluded his colleagues during a North Korean Embassy, who are compulsory to guard one another to frustrate treason, was not clear. But a South Korean supervision spokesman, Jeong Joon-hee, pronounced during a news discussion that a diplomat had arrived recently in South Korea with his mother and family, proclaiming disillusionment with a increasingly removed supervision of a North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Jeong did not mention how many family members had accompanied Mr. Thae or either any remained in North Korea, where they could be during risk of reprisal. Nor did he explain a track taken by Mr. Thae, second in arrange to Ambassador Hyon Hak-bong in London.

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“We see his desertion as a pointer that some of a core chosen in a North are losing wish in a Kim Jong-un regime,” Mr. Jeong said, “and that a inner togetherness of a statute category in a North is weakening.”

South Korean officials voiced identical conclusions in Apr when 13 people operative during a grill run by a North Korean supervision in China fled to a South. Officials pronounced that surprising organisation desertion reflected flourishing restlessness in a North.

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Jeong Joon-hee, above, a South Korean supervision spokesman, pronounced that a desertion of a diplomat Thae Yong-ho was “a pointer that some of a core chosen in a North are losing wish in a Kim Jong-un regime.”

Credit
Kim Hyun-Tae/Yonhap, around Associated Press

But analysts have cautioned opposite sketch such conclusions.

Cheong Seong-chang, an consultant on North Korea during a Sejong Institute in Seoul, pronounced that removed defections like Mr. Thae’s should not be taken as an denote of instability in a North, and that there was no pointer of an orderly plea to Mr. Kim’s rule.

Others were discreet since some North Korean defectors to South Korea have not always found happiness, a summary that might have found a approach behind to Pyongyang, a North’s capital, and elsewhere.

“I consider we will continue to see comparison defections though during a trickling pace,” pronounced Jae H. Ku, executive of a U.S. Korea Institute during a Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “I don’t consider we are during a indicate where we will see large defections by elites since these elites have not nonetheless found ways to live absolutely in South Korea.”

Still, Mr. Thae’s desertion could produce a trove of comprehension information. It came as family between a Koreas had worsened over a North’s chief weapons and barb programs, tested in rebuttal of general sanctions.

While a North had no evident greeting to a desertion announcement, it was seen in a South and elsewhere as a vital annoyance for Mr. Kim, who has trained subordinates by demoting them or in some cases executing them.

The final time a North Korean diplomat of such high arrange defected was in 1997, when Jang Seung-gil, a envoy to Egypt, sought retreat in a United States with his younger brother, a North Korean diplomat in Paris.

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Inklings of a profanation in a North Korean Embassy in London flush a few days ago when a South Korean mass-circulation newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, quoted an unknown source observant a diplomat there had defected in early Aug after “painstaking preparation.” By a time other embassy officials satisfied this, a journal said, a diplomat had fled.

Mr. Thae has been good famous in a British news media, behaving as a embassy’s categorical indicate of hit for British correspondents roving to Pyongyang. Reuters reported that Mr. Thae spoke frequently during far-left events in London, including meetings of a British Communist Party where he would make ardent speeches in invulnerability of North Korea.

Steve Evans, a BBC Korea match who had met Mr. Thae in London, remembered a North Korean as a primary male who seemed to suffer life in a suburbs of west London. He busy a curry grill and favourite to speak about family and health, including worries about a conflict of diabetes, Mr. Evans said. He switched to tennis after his mother complained about his mania with golf.

Mr. Thae was one of a North Korean escorts seen concomitant Mr. Kim’s elder brother, Kim Jong-chol, to a Clapton unison in London in 2015.

The diplomat had been scheduled to lapse to Pyongyang this summer with his mother and son, Mr. Evans reported.

“But he seemed so British,” he wrote. “He seemed so during home. He seemed so center class, so conservative, so dapper. He had never given any spirit of disloyalty to a regime, not a flutter of doubt.”

According to South Korean news media, Mr. Thae and his wife, Oh Hae-son, 50, had chosen family backgrounds. Mr. Thae was a son of Thae Byong-ryol, a comrade-in-arms of Mr. Kim’s grandfather, a North’s initial president, Kim Il-sung, when a elder Mr. Kim was a personality of Korean guerrillas fighting opposite Japanese colonialists in a early 20th century, a South Korean news group Yonhap reported. Ms. Oh was a relations of another former Korean narrow-minded guerrilla, Oh Baek-ryong, a South Korean journal Chosun Ilbo reported.

Offspring of a former guerrillas occupy pivotal posts of a Pyongyang government, forming a core chosen buttressing Mr. Kim’s order and vital with luxuries typical North Koreans can usually dream about. They are authorised to investigate abroad, as Mr. Thae and his sons did, in China and in Europe. Mr. Thae served in London for 10 years, an scarcely prolonged army in a primary outpost for a North Korean diplomat.

South Korean officials have cited new defectors as explanation that some North Korean elites abroad were defecting rather than confronting persecution, as it became increasingly formidable to perform their missions underneath tightened general sanctions.

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The series of North Korean defectors nearing in South Korea forsaken from a high of 2,706 in 2011 to 1,275 final year, as Mr. Kim systematic his nation to tie limit control with China, a initial stop for roughly all haven seekers. The series of defectors began picking adult again this year, with 749 nearing in a initial 6 months.

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