Two North Koreans defect in latest upset for diplomatic thaw on Korean peninsula
Two North Koreans, including a military officer, defected to the South early on Saturday morning in the latest upset for Pyongyang after a fractious week in which Kim Jong-un threatened to pull out of June talks with Donald Trump, the US president. The officer and a civilian defected by boat and were picked up by the South Korean military in the Yellow Sea, near the inter-Korean sea border, after expressing willingness to defect, reported the South’s newswire, Yonhap. The defection, the first of a North Korean military officer since 2008, is awkward timing for Seoul, which has a longstanding policy of accepting any North Korean defectors who want to live in the South. Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, has been at pains to keep this year’s diplomatic détente between North and South on track, particularly in the run up to June 12 summit in Singapore between Kim and President Trump, which aims to make progress on denuclearisation and peace on the peninsula. But despite a friendly first meeting between Kim and Mr Moon at the end of April, during which they held hands as they crossed their shared border, the diplomatic thaw that began in January showed the first signs of a breakdown last week, and the latest defection could raise tensions further. Thae Yong-ho, the highest ranking North Korean official ever to defect Credit: AFP/AFP In a stinging rebuke on Thursday, North Korea’s chief negotiator, Ri Son Gwon, called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent” for going ahead with joint air combat drills with the US, threatening to halt all talks. Mr Ri also hit out at Seoul for allowing “human scum” to speak at its National Assembly. Although he did not mention him by name, it is believed that Mr Ri was referring to Thae Yong-ho, the highest ranking North Korean official ever to defect, who warned that Kim would never fully give up his nuclear arsenal during a press conference in the Assembly on Monday. Korea summit | Read more Pyongyang’s angry outburst at the South followed an earlier threat to Washington last week that it may pull out of the Singapore summit. Citing the joint military drills as one reason, Kim Kye Gwan also took aim at John Bolton, the US national security adviser, for championing the so-called “Libya model” of denuclearisation as one that could be applied to North Korea. “It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move [sic] to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had [sic] been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers,” said Mr Kim in a statement.