Korea: Senior N. Korea diplomat based in London defects

A customer watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on Thae Yong Ho North Korea's deputy ambassador in London who has defected with his family to South Korea in Seoul

Korea: Senior N. Korea diplomat based in London defects

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.

A TOP North Korean diplomat in London has defected because he is "sick and exhausted of Kim Jong-un's regime", according to a spokesman for the South Korean government.

Thae Yong Ho, a career diplomat, was a key official at the embassy, in a residential area of west London, and is thought to have escorted Kim Jong Chol, the North Korean leader's older brother, during his trip to the United Kingdom past year to attend an Eric Clapton concert.

Those waitresses have finished a prolonged period of investigation and have entered into normal society, an official at South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Wednesday.

Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-Hee said Thae told South Korean officials that he made a decision to defect because of his disgust with the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has become increasingly isolated after conducting its fourth nuclear test in January and numerous ballistic missile launches this year, which resulted in tightened UN Security Council sanctions. The regime often exacts revenge on relatives and friends at home and has been known to pursue defectors overseas.

Jeong said Thae's defection could be a sign that unity in Kim Jong Un's ruling class is weakening.

The Unification Ministry said Thae's defection reflected the loss of faith among North Korea's elite in Kim Jong-Un's leadership.

South Korea' JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, which first reported Thae's defection on Tuesday, said he had been under pressure from Pyongyang to combat growing worldwide criticism of North Korea's human rights record. Thae was the second highest-ranking diplomat in the North Korean embassy in London after Ambassador Hyon Hak-bong, Jeong added. A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said, "It's not a story we're commenting on".

Thae had worked at the North Korean Embassy in London for about 10 years, the Yonhap news agency said.

Analysts agreed that Thae's defection could be highly valuable to South Korea and the West. Thae would have come into contact, Nilsson-Wright said, with a number of influential people in the current North Korean administration. He spoke regularly at far-left events in London, including meetings of a British communist party where he would make impassioned speeches in defense of North Korea, according to videos of the events.

Thae, 55, is a veteran diplomat who is experienced in dealing with countries in Western Europe. The announcement is expected to infuriate North Korea, which typically calls high-profile defectors traitors and accuses South Korea of abducting or luring its citizens to defect.

In April, 13 North Koreans working at a North Korean-operated restaurant in China defected to South Korea in the largest group defection since Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011.

"I don't blame reporters", Thae said during a speech at a left-wing London bookshop in late 2014.

According to an online search of his name, Thae's son was an avid gamer, and had accumulated 368 hours regularly playing CounterStrike over the previous year, under the name "North Korea is Best Korea".

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