Saturday 24 June 2017

N Korea diplomat: My sons being teased by UK classmates played part in defection

Thae Yong Ho speaks with media at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Seoul, South Korea (Ed Jones, Pool Photo via AP)
Thae Yong Ho speaks with media at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Seoul, South Korea (Ed Jones, Pool Photo via AP)

The highest-level North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea has said he decided to flee because he did not want his children to live "miserable" lives in the North.

Thae Yong Ho, a former minister at the North Korean embassy in London, told reporters that he was lucky to have been able to bring both of his sons to London, unlike other North Korean diplomats who are forced to leave some of their children at home as "hostages".

After his sons, now 20 and 27, learned about life in Britain, they began asking him questions such as why North Korea barred use of the internet and executed people without proper legal procedures, he said.

Their British friends at school made fun of them over the nature of their homeland, he said.

For instance, when they grew long hair, their friends laughed and asked whether they could be arrested in North Korea because they had heard all young men were required to have short haircuts.

"These kinds of questions bombarded my sons," Mr Thae said.

He said he decided to talk frankly with them about North Korea.

Mr Thae concluded that his sons would have "miserable" lives if they returned home because they had come to know the truth about the country.

Ahead of their defection to South Korea last year, Mr Thae said he told his sons that he was going to "cut the chains of slavery and you are free men".

He said his sons are "now feeling a true sense of freedom" in South Korea.

Mr Thae said his disappointment with leader Kim Jong Un was another reason he defected.

Kim, who took office in late 2011 following his dictator father's death, has orchestrated a series of high-profile executions, purges and dismissals in what outside analysts say is an attempt to bolster his grip on power.

Kim's pursuit of nuclear weapons has drawn tough international sanctions.

Mr Thae is the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea.

In 1997, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt fled but resettled in the United States.

North Korea has called Mr Thae "human scum" and accused him of embezzling government money and committing other crimes.

AP

Press Association

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