North Korean diplomat, related to top regime official, defected to South, say sources

Kuwait CityA NORTH KOREAN ACTING ambassador, who is believed to be the son of one of the most senior officials of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reportedly defected with his family to South Korea, according to sources. Two South Korean news outlets, the Yonhap News Agency and the Maeil Business Newspaper, reported the alleged defection on Monday. They both cited sources in the South Korean government.

The alleged defector is Ryu Hyun-Woo, who was serving as acting charge d’affaires at the North Korean embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait. He assumed his post in October 2017, when the Kuwaiti government expelled the North Korean ambassador from the country. The expulsion was ordered in response to a nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang in September of that year, which was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution barring the communist state from carrying out nuclear activities.

The government in Pyongyang attributes major significance to its embassy in Kuwait City, since it constitutes its sole diplomatic presence in the Gulf region. Personnel who serve at the embassy are carefully vetted and come from some the most loyal families in the inner circle of the WPK. However, it appears that Ryu, who headed the embassy after October 2017, defected with his wife and children in September 2019. The family reportedly flew to South Korea, where they requested asylum upon arrival. According to the Maeil Business Newspaper, Ryu said he defected in order “to provide his children with a better future”.

According to the South Korean reports, Ryu is the son-in-law of Jon Il-Chun, who formerly directed the Central Committee Bureau 39 —or Office 39— of the WPK. This is the agency tasked by the North Korean regime with securing highly-sought-after hard foreign currency for use by the ruling family and their closest aides. It has been described as the operational nerve center of the North Korean government. If the reports of Ryu’s defection are correct, they would mark a major incident of disloyalty to the regime by a member of the innermost circle of the ruling elite.

Last October it was reported that Jo Song-gil, North Korea’s ambassador to Italy, who disappeared without trace in 2018, was believed to have resettled in South Korea. If true, that would make him the most senior official to defect from North Korea in over 20 years, and it would make Ryu the second most senior official to defect during that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2021 | Permalink

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