December 15, 2010 12:53
A man who says he was an interpreter for the North Korean military before he fled the Stalinist country is expected to make it to South Korea at last, the Kyodo news agency reported Tuesday citing an official at the UN High Commission for Refugees. The man, identified only as Choi (41), fled across the border to eastern Russia in September last year and applied for asylum there.
A diplomatic source in Moscow said Choi left Vladivostok on Dec. 9 and is staying in a safe house in Moscow. It has not been decided when he will arrive in South Korea.
According to Kyodo, Choi sneaked into the Russian Maritime Province of Primorsky Krai in September last year but was arrested by the Russians. In November he was sentenced to six months in prison for illegally entering the country.
During the trial, Choi described himself as a staffer in an industry-related office in North Korea but later claimed that was his nominal title and he was in fact a Russian interpreter with the North Korean chiefs of staff. But a South Korean government official said Choi was an interpreter for a North Korean company tasked with earning hard currency.
Choi told Kyodo the North Korean regime "makes people suffer. People are executed or sent to labor camps all the time, and most ordinary people are starving." He claimed he "wanted to contribute to changing the situation from outside."
Choi reportedly lived in the Soviet Union in the 1980s between the ages of 13 and 17 years old, when his father worked at the North Korean Embassy in Moscow.
"I was there in January last year when the North Korean government announced Kim Jong-un as the successor of Kim Jong-il in front of high military officials in Pyongyang," Choi claimed. "Kim Jong-il is going to die in a few years, and it's impossible for the young and inexperienced Jong-un to rule the country. My dream is to go back to my country, which will be free some day, and live with my family."
Several highly placed North Korean defectors have lately made headlines. The manager of the Kathmandu branch of the Pyongyang Okryugwan restaurant chain identified as Yang escaped to India, and Sol Jong-sik, the first secretary of the Youth League in North Korea's Ryanggang Province, defected in June last year. Some North Korean diplomats based in Northeast Asia as well as the head of a North Korean company in charge of earning foreign currency also arrived in Seoul last year.
"It may be too early to jump to the conclusion that Kim Jong-il regime's life has come to an end, but we're seeing a series of defections from within the North Korean elite," a South Korean intelligence official said.
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