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(LEAD) N.K. elites' defections point to signs of cracks in regime: Seoul official

2016/10/06 18:40

(ATTN: CORRECTS date, minor updates throughout)

SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- A series of high-profile defections by members of the North Korean elite are signs of cracks in the country, but it is too early to say if it could spur the collapse of the regime, a Seoul official said Thursday.

This year, more ranking North Korean officials including Thae Yong-ho, a former minister at Pyongyang's embassy in London, defected to South Korea, which some experts view as a sign of instability in the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

An official at Seoul's unification ministry said the trend has yet to be seen as a potential sign that the oppressive regime will implode, but the move is an indication of cracks in the North's leadership.

"We see that defections by North Korean elites are clear signs of cracks in the North Korean regime. But it remains to be seen if it could work as a trigger for the regime’s collapse," the official said, asking not to be named.

He said that regime change is not the goal of South Korea's inter-Korean policy, adding that the government will adhere to President Park Geun-hye's signature policy of building mutual trust for reunification.

The official said that the number of high-ranking North Korean officials' defections rose this year compared to last year, without revealing specific figures.

Thae defected to South Korea with his family in August, making him one of the highest-ranking North Koreans to come to the South. He is known to have come due to his disillusionment with Pyongyang and concerns about his children's future.

Another high-ranking North Korean official stationed at North Korea's mission in Beijing has recently defected to South Korea with his family, according to a source familiar with Pyongyang's affairs.

The official belonging to the North's health ministry is known to be in charge of providing medical supplies to a clinic in Pyongyang which caters to the North's leader and his family, the source added.

Touching on the North Korean ruling party's anniversary, the Seoul official said that there is no sign of a military parade being prepared for Oct. 10.

Last year, North Korea staged a massive parade to display its military prowess on the 70th founding anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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