August 19, 2016 11:16
The recent defections of relatively senior North Korean diplomats point to increasing disaffection among the elite in the repressive country.
The trend goes back to the brutal execution of leader Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek, who had feathered his nest thanks to extensive business contacts in China and was threatening the young leader's authority.
Other officials have since begun to see their apparently entrenched privilege in peril, as evidenced by Thae Yong-ho, a ranking diplomat in the North Korean Embassy in London, who had spent a comfortable decade abroad but was about to return to the North before defecting to Seoul recently.
"In the past, diplomats who defected were usually from the lower ranks and had been involved in some kind of corruption," a diplomatic source here said. "But these days they are often more senior diplomats."
The fresh wave includes overseas trade managers and secretaries of party cells stationed overseas to spy on the diplomats, as well as career diplomats. The defections are occurring mostly in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe, the source added.
One is Kim Chol-song, a secretary at the North Korean Embassy in Moscow who disappeared from an airport in St. Petersburg, Russia in July and has recently arrived in South Korea with his family.
Kim Jong-un has reportedly sent inspectors to the overseas missions from where diplomats and officials have defected to the West or South Korea.
"Kim ordered all overseas missions to eliminate risk factors and immediately repatriate anyone who seems ideologically unsound, another source said.
Senior officials in the State Security Department who fail to prevent defections are brutally executed with anti-aircraft guns.
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