July 02, 2015 12:38
About a dozen senior North Korean officials have defected in recent years because they feared for their lives in leader Kim Jong-un's purges, a source said Wednesday.
The defectors were working in China and Southeast Asia, some charged with earning hard currency for the regime.
Several have already arrived in South Korea while others are staying in a third country.
Early this year, a mid-ranking official who had been dispatched to Hong Kong from Room 39, a Workers Party office that handles Kim's slush funds, sought asylum in South Korea with his family.
He reportedly told investigators here he was terrified of Kim's draconian purges, which saw senior officials executed by anti-aircraft gun, and that officials left in North Korea find it almost impossible to flee because of tight controls but those working overseas can find some opportunities to defect.
Last year, a senior official of Taesong Bank, who had handled Kim's slush funds in Siberia, fled to South Korea with millions of dollars. Even a senior official of the State Security Department fled the North and arrived here. According to the National Security Service here, the defection particularly upset Kim.
An army general has been staying in a third country since he fled the North recently, according to sources. The general was reportedly involved in the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.
The defections highlight the climate of fear among senior apparatchiks since the brutal execution of Kim's uncle and one-time eminence grise Jang Song-taek, as well as that of former armed forces minister Hyon Yong-chol.
In a report to the National Assembly, the NIS claimed that the North executed more than 70 senior party, government and military officials by firing squad since Kim took power.
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