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(2nd LD) N.K. names new envoy to Britain following senior diplomat's defection

2016/11/03 19:55

(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 3-6)

SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has named Choe Il as its new ambassador to Britain, Pyongyang's state media said Thursday, following the latest defection to South Korea by a top diplomat stationed in London.

Choe has been appointed Pyongyang's envoy to Britain, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a short dispatch, replacing his predecessor Hyon Hak-bong.

Choe's background remains largely murky, but a handful of reports and documents that contain his name indicate that his work was associated with the U.S. and the United Nations.

In reports by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) in 2009, his name appeared on the list of visitors to the U.S. as vice chairman of the Korea-America Private Exchange Society (KAPES), an organization that liaises with US-based non-governmental groups.

In 2006, he participated in the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) as a researcher of the Institute of Disarmament and Peace. NEACE is a multilateral forum involving high-level policymakers, defense ministry officials, military officers and researchers from the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

In March 2013, his name again appeared in the list of U.N. diplomats as a councilor of the North Korean mission.

The report came amid speculation that North Korea recalled Hyon to hold him responsible for the defection to Seoul of Thae Yong-ho, a former minister at its embassy in the British capital.

In late July, Thae defected to South Korea with his wife and children, making him one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to escape to the South.

Seoul's unification ministry said Thae chose to defect due to his disillusionment with the North's regime and concerns about his children's future.

A growing number of North Koreans, including elites, have defected to South Korea, as the country's leader Kim Jong-un tightens his iron-fisted rule over the country.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said in October that the largest-ever number of educated, upper-echelon defectors have come to the South over the past eight to nine months, although he did not provide details.

North Korean workers toiling in overseas countries and diplomats are under heavy pressure to send hard currency to the North's regime. Pyongyang is facing economic hardship in the face of tougher sanctions over its nuclear and missile provocations.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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