More Defections by N.Korean Diplomats 'Went Unreported'

  • By Lee Yong-soo, Kim Myong-song

    January 18, 2017 13:14

    Several North Korean diplomats have recently defected to South Korea but the news has been kept quiet, the former No. 2 in the North Korean Embassy in London said Tuesday.

    "A significant number of diplomats came to South Korea," Thae Yong-ho said. "Even now, there are a number waiting to head to the South."

    Thae was speaking at a conference hosted by conservatives who defected from the Saenuri Party to launch their own. Intelligence sources say there has been a marked increase in defections among the North Korean elite since last July, when Thae fled to the South with his family.

    One intelligence source said, "The number of North Korean diplomats who defected to South Korea last year stands in the double digits." The source added that includes not just diplomats but also high-ranking officials from Room 39, the Workers Party office that manages leader Kim Jong-un's private coffers, and military officers.

    Thae Yong-ho (right) speaks with defector and former Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyoung at a conference at the National Assembly in Seoul on Tuesday.

    One former government official who had access to debriefings of mid- and high-ranking defectors, said, "The biggest reason for the surge was intense pressure to send money back to the North in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Workers Party and the seventh Workers Party congress.

    "If they failed to raise dollars, they fled for fear of punishment, and if they did meet the quota, they still defected because they realized that there is no future for them in the North."

    A Unification Ministry official said there are 15 red-letter days this year alone, including the 75th birthday of former leader Kim Jong-il, the 105th birthday of nation founder Kim Il-sung and the 85th anniversary of the military, and the festivities all have to be paid for. "This is going to be one exhausting year for North Korean diplomats," he added.

    Thae said the Achilles heel of Kim Jong-un is his birth to a mistress of his father's who was born in Japan, which is regarded as tainted blood in North Korea's purity-obsessed ideology. "Kim Jong-un faces many obstacles if he is to follow in his father's footsteps and publicize who his mother is," he said.

    "Kim has been ruling for six years now but still can't declare his birthday an official holiday because he’s still having problems legitimizing his lineage," a source said.

    Thae said South Korea should try to bring about the collapse of the North Korean regime through the influx of outside information. "We need to maintain international cooperation and sanctions against the North and pursue human rights reforms," he said.

    He said only 10 to 20 percent of international food aid shipments actually end up with people, the rest is stolen by the military. "What is more important is the fact that we need to let North Koreans know that South Korea sent rice. Otherwise all aid would just be used to help the regime develop nuclear weapons."

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