SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - A senior North Korean diplomat based in London has defected to South Korea, becoming one of the highest Northern officials to do so, South Korea said Wednesday.
South Korea's Unification Ministry announced that Thae Yong-ho, a minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, and his family are now under the South Korean government's protection after leaving his post in the British capital.
Thae is the highest-level diplomat to defect from isolated North Korea to the rival, democratic South, according to the South Korean government.
South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that Thae Yong Ho, formerly the No. 2 diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in London, had arrived with his family earlier this month and was under government protection.
"It is known that Minister Thae revealed he got sick and exhausted of the Kim Jong Un regime and yearned for a liberal and democratic regime, concerned about the future of his children", MoU spokesperson Jeong Joon-hee said on Wednesday. The newspaper also said Thae may have felt anxious about his son's academic future due to the possibility of his being recalled by North Korean authorities at any time.
Thae was scheduled to return to North Korea this summer after working in Europe for more than a decade.
Thae Yong-ho (right) accompanies Kim Jong-chol, older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to an Eric Clapton concert in London past year.
Almost 30,000 North Koreans have fled poverty and repression at home to settle in the capitalist South.
Referring to that case, KCNA Saturday said Seoul was responsible for "such ugly terrorism as kidnapping".
Thae was believed to have worked at the embassy in London for 10 years where a large part of his duties involved countering criticism of North Korea's human rights record and other negative media coverage.
Both said he was a senior official in Office 39 - a secretive organization within North Korea's ruling Workers' Party that maintains a slush fund in hard currency for the top leadership. Some diplomats have to leave family members in the North, precisely to deter flight impulses. The South Korean government particularly emphasized that Thae was a "high-ranking diplomat" and that he was "sick and exhausted of the Pyongyang regime".
But the number of defectors, who once numbered more than 2,000 a year, has almost halved since Kim Jong-un took power after the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong-il in December 2011.
The Guardian reported that his 19-year-old second son showed exceptional talent, receiving As in school and awaiting matriculation at Imperial College London.
North Korea's embassy in London is seen as a key diplomatic post which also handles relations with the European Union. In the UK, Thae's primary job was to argue that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was being misrepresented by the British media and misunderstood by the British public, the BBC reported. Thae has defected to South Korea, .
The defection comes amid tensions in East Asia over South Korea's decision to deploy a USA missile-defense system as protection against regular attacks from North Korea. "It also indicates that North Korea's regime's internal solidarity is weakening".
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