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North Korea calls diplomat who defected 'human scum'

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 20, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea says a senior diplomat who defected was “human scum” and accused him of fleeing to escape extradition for a series of crimes.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed Wednesday that Thae Yong Ho, formerly the No. 2 diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in London, had arrived with his family earlier this month and was under government protection.

In the first official response to the defection, North Korea’s state-run news agency did not use Thae’s name Saturday but said the “fugitive” who worked at the embassy in Britain had been ordered to return home to be investigated for a series of crimes. Those included embezzling government funds, leaking state secrets for money and raping a minor, according to the report.

“He deserved a legal punishment for his crimes, but he took to flight, betraying his country and parents and other kith and kin. He thus revealed himself as human scum bereft of elementary sense of moral obligation and conscience,” the Korean Central News Agency said. It gave no evidence for the claims.

KCNA accused South Korea of aiding Thae’s defection as part of a smear campaign against the North. It also said Britain handed Thae to South Korea “in disregard of its legitimate demand for sending back the criminal and the international practice on his extradition.”

Thae reportedly had been due to return to the North this summer after a decade at his post in London. In its announcement Wednesday, the Unification Ministry said Thae defected because of frustration with the North Korean regime and concern for his family.

The North frequently uses harsh language to describe defectors and often accuses the South of kidnapping or paying its citizens to leave their country. Pyongyang branded the North Korean ambassador to Egypt a “criminal” after he defected in 1997, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have defected to the South, but the loss of such a senior-level diplomat was a serious blow to Pyongyang. It raised questions about possible vulnerability of the leadership and the amount of intelligence about the North that Thae may be able to provide.

The defection came at a time of high tensions on the divided peninsula. North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by several missile tests despite toughened U.N. sanctions.

The governments of South Korea and Britain issued no immediate response to the KCNA report.

gamel.kim@stripes.com

Twitter: @kimgamel

A man watches a TV news airing a file image of Thae Yong Ho, minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. Thae has defected to South Korea, becoming one of the highest Northern officials to do so, South Korea said Wednesday. The letters read "He was the No. 2 man at the embassy."
AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP PHOTO

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