North Korea has purged a vice foreign minister, punishing the 72-year-old and his family with farm work, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said. Vice Minister Kung Sok Ung “took responsibility for the management of the embassies in the European region and was purged.”
The daily reports Kung Sok Ung, 72, and four other ranking officials in charge of European affairs were expelled from Pyongyang on the orders of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It said Kung oversaw relations with Russia and Europe for nearly 20 years.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye recently said, “While the defections by North Korean elites, as well as regular citizens, are on the rise, the motivations for their defections have become varied, with some fleeing their country with a sense of despair about lack of their own prospects or for their children’s future,” Park said.
Before 2001, nearly 70 percent of those fleeing North Korea cited hunger, but now almost 88 percent cite non-economic reasons such as surveillance and fear, the news agency said.
Among those now fleeing to freedom are significant numbers of senior officials. “Since the execution of Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013, defections by the privileged class have risen due to the North’s leader’s reign of terror,” Yonhap on Sunday quoted Sohn Kwang-joo, who heads the South’s defector resettlement agency, as saying.
On Oct. 5, Japan was said to be handling a request for asylum by a senior North Korean official in Beijing. Tokyo denied the reports, while South Korean media said the official’s final destination was likely to be Seoul.
Pyongyang is reported to have executed more than 100 dissenting state, party and military officials since Kim came to power in late 2011.