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High-profile defector halts public activity on security concerns

2017/02/21 09:39

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile North Korean defector, has suspended all public activities over safety concerns following the killing of the half brother of the North's leader, a government source said Tuesday.

South Korea's spy agency has decided to put on hold Thae's public activities, including media interviews, on concerns that he could be a target of North Korean agents, according to the source.

Thae, a former North Korean diplomat in London who escaped to Seoul with his family in late July, has held press conferences and attended a forum as a panelist since late December to reveal North Korea's situation.

This photo taken on Feb. 9, 2017, shows Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat stationed in London who defected to South Korea last year. (Yonhap) This photo taken on Feb. 9, 2017, shows Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat stationed in London who defected to South Korea last year. (Yonhap)

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late former leader Kim Jong-il, died last week at an airport in Malaysia after being attacked by two Asian women with what appeared to be a poisonous substance.

Rep. Ha Tae-Keung of the splinter Bareun Party claimed last week that two North Korean spies have entered South Korea to attack defectors, warning that Thae would be the No. 1 target. He did not reveal where he obtained the intelligence.

The incident is likely to put on hold Thae's possible trip to the United States. Thae told Yonhap News Agency in January that he is willing to visit the U.S. to speak about North Korea's nuclear problems to American people and policymakers.

The government has beefed up security for high-profile defectors following the death of Kim Jong-nam.

Malaysian police said that at least five North Korean suspects are involved in the incident. Seoul said that it is highly likely that North Korea is behind the killing, given that Pyongyang has a track record of committing terrorist attacks and inhumane acts.

In 1997, Lee Han-young, nephew of Song Hye-rim, was shot in front of his apartment outside Seoul, 15 years after he defected to the capitalist South. Song is the mother of Kim Jong-nam.

Investigators suspected that Lee was the target of an assassination by North Korea.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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