Fri, Jan 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

N Korean diplomat ‘vanished’: lawmaker

‘HOSTAGES’:Jo Song-gil reportedly applied for asylum and was ‘safe’ with his family, despite a requirement for overseas diplomats to leave their children in North Korea

Reuters, SEOUL

A North Korean diplomat who was until recently acting ambassador to Italy has gone missing, a South Korean lawmaker said yesterday, after a South Korean newspaper reported that the envoy was seeking asylum in the West.

The diplomat, Jo Song-gil, disappeared with his wife after leaving the North Korean embassy in Italy without notice in early November last year, said South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-ki, who was briefed by the South Korean National Intelligence Service.

Earlier yesterday, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, citing an unidentified diplomatic source, said that 48-year-old Jo had applied for asylum with an unspecified Western country and was in a “safe place” with his family under the protection of the Italian government.

Kim told reporters that he had some information about the case, but could not discuss it.

“They left the diplomatic mission and vanished,” Kim said, referring to Jo and his family.

If confirmed, Jo would join a slowly growing list of senior diplomats who have sought to flee the impoverished, oppressive nation under the rule of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Then-North Korean deputy ambassador to the UK Thae Yong-ho in August 2016 defected with his family to South Korea, becoming the highest-ranking diplomat to do so.

Jo took up the acting envoy post in October 2017 after Italy expelled then-North Korean ambassador Mun Jong-nam in protest over North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile tests in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions.

Jo’s stint began in May 2015 and was to end in November, Kim Min-ki said.

A source, who asked to remain unnamed in order to speak about a sensitive political issue, told reporters that Jo was officially replaced by Acting North Korean Ambassador to Italy Kim Chon in late November.

The source could not confirm the JoongAng Ilbo report or whether Jo was still based in Italy.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House earlier yesterday said that it had no knowledge of the matter.

A representative of the Italian embassy in Seoul, which is also responsible for North Korean affairs, did not have any comment.

Italy said in a November 2017 report it submitted to a UN panel monitoring the enforcement of sanctions that four diplomats were stationed at the North Korean embassy there, listing Jo as first secretary.

Jo was with his wife and children, the JoongAng Ilbo said.

Citing an expert, it said that he was the son or son-in-law of a top-ranking North Korean official.

Pyongyang has forced diplomats stationed overseas to leave children at home since Kim Jong-un took power in late 2011.

Thae said in his memoir published last year that was the main reason behind his defection, calling it a “hostage” scheme.

However, Thae also wrote that there were some exceptions for those from the top echelons and who were seen as the most loyal to Kim Jong-un.

This story has been viewed 1337 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top