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(LEAD) Ranking N.K. official stationed in Beijing defects to S. Korea: source

2016/10/05 22:11

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead with comment from source on diplomat's defection to South Korea)

SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- A ranking North Korean official stationed at North Korea's mission in Beijing has recently defected to South Korea, a source familiar with Pyongyang's affairs said Wednesday.

An official belonging to the North's health ministry defected with his family in late September, according to the source, who declined to be identified. The source said the family is reportedly undergoing questioning by relevant institutions.

He is known to be in charge of providing medical supplies to a clinic in Pyongyang which caters to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his family, the source added.

The JoongAng Ilbo earlier reported that two ranking officials at North Korea's mission in Beijing were seeking to defect to Japan.

"As far as I'm concerned, that report is not true," the source said.

Japan's foreign ministry also told Yonhap News Agency that there were no North Koreans in contact with Japan's embassy in Beijing about seeking asylum.

Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman at South Korea's unification ministry, said that there is nothing that can be confirmed.

If a defection actually took place, the development will be the latest case involving a North Korean elite, who may have grown disillusioned with Pyongyang’s repressive regime.

Thae Yong-ho, a former diplomat stationed in London, defected to South Korea with his family, making him one of the highest-ranking North Koreans to come to the South.

President Park Geun-hye on Saturday called for ordinary North Koreans to defect to the South, saying that Seoul will keep the road open for them to find new hope and lives here.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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