NK diplomat in Russia defects: reports

By Shin Hyon-hee
  • Published : Aug 26, 2016 - 16:27
  • Updated : Aug 26, 2016 - 18:50
A North Korean diplomat posted in Russia has recently fled the host country, marking the latest in an ongoing string of defections by Pyongyang’s elite members, news reports said late Thursday.

The official, whose identity and current whereabouts remain unclear, is known to have had served at Pyongyang’s trade representative within its consulate-general in Vladivostok before leaving there with his family.

Affiliated with the North’s Ministry of External Economic Affairs, the secretary-level diplomat was responsible for sending needed supplies back home, aside from the main trade affairs.

Seoul’s foreign and unification ministries on Friday acknowledged the reports but declined to confirm, citing defector safety concerns and diplomatic sensitivity.

“But it is true that North Korean officials from various sectors have recently been defecting, some of them chose to come here (and not elsewhere),” a Foreign Ministry official said. 

North Korean Embassy in London. (Yonhap)

The reports came about just a week after Seoul announced the arrival in Seoul by Thae Yong-ho, the North’s No.2 official at its embassy in London. He was among the highest-ranked who had escaped their oppressive homeland and resettled in the South in recent years, alongside senior military officers and other working-level diplomats.

From Russia, Kim Chol-song, a third secretary and trade representative of the North Korean mission in St. Petersburg, landed in Seoul in July 2015.

The apparent newest defection coincides with rampant speculation that the Kim Jong-un regime had dispatched a group of some 100 state security and trade department officials to carry out an all-out inspection on all trade representatives in border regions in China, via Vladivostok.

The delegation reportedly pushed for an extensive personnel shake-up there before returning home earlier this week, resulting in a freeze of some trade missions in three border provinces in China -- Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang.

Shortly after Thae’s defection, the communist state shelved its plan to send five businesses to an investment and trade fair in Yanji, Jilin Province, which is scheduled to kick off Sunday.

While a steady influx of defectors has for years been business as usual, the apparent rise of departures among the relatively privileged class seemingly demonstrates deepening economic difficulties in the reclusive society amid international sanctions over its nuclear program.

The cash-strapped regime, in turn, is believed to have been heaping pressure on diplomats and other workers overseas to maneuver new ways to secure hard currency, sometimes involving illicit measures, or face punishment.

“We’re witnessing various aspects of reality in North Korea from the recent series of defections, which may be inevitable in the face of changes in the Kim Jong-un era,” Unification Ministry spokesperson Jeong Joon-hee said at a news briefing Friday.

“The serial defections appears to be a phenomenon influenced by growing instability within North Korea due to Kim’s reign of fear which is aimed at consolidating his power base.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (