A senior North Korean diplomat in London who defected to South Korea last year said Tuesday that a much larger number of Pyongyang’s civil servant defections have taken place recently than have been made public, South Korean media reported.
“A significant number of diplomats came to South Korea,” Thae Yong-ho said at a conference hosted by the conservative Bareun Party, Yonhap News Agency reported. “Even now, there are a number of (North Koreans) waiting to head to the South.”
“There will be an increase in the number of elite-class defectors seeking a better life,” Thae added. “I am the only high-ranking official whose identity has been revealed to the public. South Korean media do not know but North Korean diplomats are all aware of it.”
More than economic reasons, the political situation in Pyongyang has been the main factor for North Koreans fleeing the country, the Wall Street Journal quoted South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo as saying in an interview Monday.
According to the Ministry of Unification data, the number of defectors from North Korea rose to 1,417 people in 2016, following years of decreasing numbers, possibly because of the heightened border security by Pyongyang. However, Hong said: “We need to wait and see the trend more, but security in the border region didn’t get weaker, so it’s clear that people’s desire for a better life has increased.”
Thae, who was the North’s former deputy ambassador to the U.K., reportedly defected “for his son’s education,” and not other economic reasons. He claims that Kim Jong Un is facing additional challenges as he did not have the time required to prepare for the succession, unlike his father Kim Jong-il.
“The concept of a proletarian dictatorship is long gone in North Korea. It has instead become a single gigantic slave society that exists only for the Kim family,” Yonhap quoted Thae as saying at the National Assembly.