August 18, 2016 10:25
Defections by high-ranking North Korean diplomats are on the rise.
In early July, Kim Chol-song, a third secretary at the North Korean Embassy in Moscow, defected to the West with his family, while in May last year, the economic attaché at the embassy in Ethiopia defected to South Korea.
A North Korean diplomat in Thailand defected two years ago, and a source on Wednesday said several other North Korean diplomats have defected to South Korea since last year.
North Korean diplomats come from the elite whose livelihood is guaranteed by the state. They are screened for their loyalty and family background before their posting overseas, and family members who stay behind are often virtual hostages.
But some are undeterred, and pundits say this points to growing disaffection among the elite as leader Kim Jong-un seeks to assert control over the various entitled factions.
Since Kim Jong-un came to power and tougher international sanctions kicked in, diplomats abroad have suffered increasing pressure from Pyongyang to send back more money, even as they fend off more questions about the North's human rights abuses.
One former diplomat who defected to South Korea said, "Some probably realize sooner than others that there is no future for them and their children under Kim Jong-un."
A government source said, "We are closely monitoring these back-to-back defections because they're starting to look like a slow exodus of the elite."
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