August 19, 2016 12:52
A ranking North Korean diplomat in London who recently defected to Seoul was at least partly motivated by his son, who went to an ordinary day school in the U.K., the Guardian reported.
Thae Yong-ho, the second-ranked diplomat at the embassy, was faced with the decision whether to take his 19-year-old son out of university and back to the repressive North or whether to allow him to lead what by then seemed a "normal" life.
Thae was scheduled to return to North Korea this summer after working in Europe for more than a decade.
Kum-hyok was born when Thae was stationed in Denmark and grew up in Sweden and the U.K. He attended a state school near the unglamorous embassy in the western suburb of Ealing, where the boy excelled academically.
He "had been due to take a place this autumn at Imperial College London, reading maths and computer science."
Kum-hyok was a typical member of the digital generation, who would have felt utterly stifled in North Korea, where Internet access is heavily restricted. In fact friends became worried when his normally lively Facebook account was suddenly terminated as the family prepared to defect.
According to the U.K.'s Mirror daily, Kum-hyok also loved online games until recently, logging 366 hours on the first-person shooting game Counter-Strike last year and accessing games as recently as July 13.
Kum-hyok somewhat disloyally used the ID "North Korea is Best Korea" on various online games, a sarcastic phrase printed on T-shirts for youngsters in the West.
Thae has another son and a daughter. The eldest is 26 and has a degree in public health from Hammersmith Hospital in West London, which is also affiliated with Imperial College.
The Unification Ministry here said Thae defected mainly because he was "sick and tired" of the North Korean regime, which he was tasked with talking up in his job.
Radio Free Asia quoted a source as saying that the prime concern of any North Korean diplomats in the West is their children's education and future.
Other media reported that Thae probably faced increasing pressure since Kim Jong-un came to power and tougher international sanctions kicked in, which led to growing pressure from Pyongyang to send back more money.
He apparently had problems making ends meet even before international sanctions against North Korea increased. The Guardian showed footage of lectures Thae delivered to the Communist Party of Britain in 2013 and at a progressive book store in 2014, where he complained about the exorbitant rent he paid for his two-bedroom home in London and the "congestion charge," a fee for taking cars into central London.
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