What ever happened to the top level North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho, former North Korean deputy envoy to the UK?

Thae Yong Ho, one of the highest profile North Koreans to defect in recent years, had hoped to visit New York last month to speak on a United Nations panel, meet U.S. envoys, and discuss human rights in the reclusive Asian nation.

A year ago, Thae testified before a Congressional committee. This time, however, Thae said the Americans told him they would not provide him with the security protection he was provided in the past, prompting him to cancel the trip.

“I just wanted to talk about the human rights issues, which are being neglected in the face of North Korea’s charm offensive,” Thae told Reuters. Human rights have been almost completely absent from this year’s flurry of diplomatic negotiations between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and leaders in South Korea and the United States.

An activist involved in planning Thae’s aborted New York trip said it was a political decision. “If Thae goes there, Kim Jong-un’s image would surely get tarnished, and that will most likely come back to Trump who said he trusts Kim.”

Thae was North Korea’s deputy envoy to the United Kingdom and, after his high-profile defection in 2016, South Korea’s intelligence agency gave him a job at its affiliated think tank. But as Seoul pushed for a thaw in ties with the North, Thae left the think tank in May, saying he did not want to be a “burden”.

Soon after, Thae criticized Kim Jong Un during a press conference at the National Assembly, prompting Pyongyang to cancel high-level talks and blast the South for allowing “human scum” to speak.

[Reuters]

Senior North Korean diplomat’s defection a ‘unique situation’

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joo-hee said on Wednesday North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho defected for the sake of his family and because he was “tired of Kim Jong Un’s regime.”

Liberty in North Korea (LINK) Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Park said the defection of the senior North Korean diplomat  was a “unique situation,” and could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea.

“There’s been those kind of things that have happened in the past for very high level defectors: assassination attempts, death threats … there will be protection from the South Korean authorities around this person, especially [in] the short term,” Park said.

Park said the defector Thae was the member of an elite family in North Korea, the son of a high-profile general. As with all high-profile defections, Park said the family still in North Korea could expect to face suspicion and possibly punishment in the future.

Park said it was unusual the diplomat had been with his entire immediate family overseas when he was posted. “That’s quite rare … a lot of the time there will be a son or an immediate family member that’s still back in North Korea kind of as collateral to make it harder for people to defect,” he said.

When asked why Thae may have defected to South Korea, rather than the United Kingdom where he was posted, Park said he may have been offered more incentives. “Maybe he would have better career prospects, for instance, if he came to South Korea, worked with the national intelligence service … rather than staying in the United Kingdom,” he said.

[CNN]