A North Korean diplomat in Rome has gone into hiding along with his wife, South Korean lawmakers said, citing Seoul’s intelligence agency, a development that presents embarrassment for Pyongyang as it negotiates nuclear disarmament with the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reports (HT: FDD).
North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy has picked a bad time for his apparent defection, given the efforts in Pyongyang and Washington to jump-start the stalled nuclear talks, The FT adds:
Jo Song Gil is from a prestigious diplomatic family and would have crucial information on how the North Korean regime operates. But if the 44-year-old diplomat is seeking asylum, he is unlikely to be welcome in the US or South Korea. Experts said Washington and Seoul would be reluctant to spoil the diplomatic mood. Mr Jo, in hiding since November, has probably moved to a third country in the west, according to analysts. That would be an embarrassment to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un whose more recent active diplomacy seeks to portray him as head of a normal state.
“I do pity the North Korean ambassador to Italy for having a terrible sense of timing as to when to defect. He will not be welcomed by the South,” tweeted Remco Breuker, professor at Leiden University. “But if he was about to be recalled to Pyongyang he may not have felt to have a choice in the matter. If indeed he is in hiding.”
The North, which touts itself as a socialist paradise, is extremely sensitive about defections, especially among its elite, and has previously insisted that they are South Korean or U.S. plots to undermine its government, The Washington Post notes, offering a look at some of the high-profile defections from North Korea.
In an interview with the National Endowment for Democracy (above), Thae Yong Ho, who defected to South Korea in 2016 after leaving his assignment as deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, said defecting was “extremely dangerous and risky mission” and anyone caught could easily face torture or immediate execution, The Daily Beast adds.
“I didn’t want to see and let my children lead that life, like me,” he said. “I don’t want them to spend the rest of their lives in North Korea, pretending loyal[ty] to the system and the leader.”