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(LEAD) NK leader's repressive rule made top diplomat defects to S. Korea: Seoul

2016/12/19 18:49

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info from para 6)

SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- Thae Yong-ho, the former No. 2 North Korean diplomat in London, decided to seek a new life in South Korea due to his growing disillusionment with the repressive regime, a lawmaker said Monday.

Thae, who had served as a minister at the North Korean embassy, defected to the South in late July mainly because he was fed up with Kim Jong-un's iron-fisted rule, under which many North Koreans are living like slaves, Rep. Lee Cheol-woo, the head of the parliamentary intelligence committee told reporters after being briefed by Seoul's spy agency.

He has become one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to come over to the South, another in a series of defections involving the North Korean elite.

"Thae said that he had come to grasp South Korea's democracy and (economic) development by watching South Korean dramas and movies during his long stay in foreign countries," Lee said, citing information from the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

He said that Thae will begin his re-settlement process in earnest in the South starting Friday, after undergoing the NIS' months-long probe into what caused him to defect to Seoul with his entire family.

North Korea branded Thae as a "criminal," claiming that he fled the North for fear of legal punishment for what Pyongyang called his crimes including embezzlement and rape of a teenage girl.

Thae flatly denied such allegations of embezzlement raised by North Korea, saying that he had calculated funds used by the embassy before the defection and took photos as evidence to back his claim, according to Lee.

"There are many ranking North Korean officials suffering from depression over concerns they will have to live like slaves for a long time if the North's young leader rules the country for decades," Thae was quoted as saying by the lawmaker.

The former diplomat said that if the North's leader is eliminated, the regime will completely collapse.

"But ranking North Korean officials have fears that they could fail to adapt to South Korea if they escape the North," Thae was quoted as saying. "More North Korean elites will seek to defect if Seoul can ensure decent jobs for them here."

   Despite risks for his safety, Thae has vowed to engage in public activities here, expressing his desire to work for inter-Korean unification, the lawmaker added.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said in October that the largest-ever number of educated, upper-echelon defectors came to the South over the past eight to nine months.

Since Kim Jong-un took office in late 2011, he has been strengthening the so-called reign of terror by killing more than 100 government and military officials.

Seoul earlier said that what's notable in recent years is an increase in defections by people from privileged backgrounds, adding that such a development can be interpreted as signs of cracks in the North's regime.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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