N. Korea's former acting ambassador to Kuwait settles in S. Korea: Sources

Choi Hee-seok, Yeon Gyu-wook, and Lee Eun-joo 2021. 1. 25. 10:27
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Ryu Hyun-woo, North Korea’s former acting ambassador to Kuwait, center, is with Ri Su-yong, former minister of foreign affairs of North Korea, far left, and Omani Undersecretary for diplomatic affairs Ahmed bin Yousef Al-Harthy. [Photo by Yonhap News Agency]
North Korea’s former acting ambassador to Kuwait has been South Korea since 2019 after he and his family defected to the South, Maeil Business Newspaper found.

Ryu Hyun-woo, the South Korean name of a former North Korean acting ambassador to Kuwait, has resettled in the South with his family for over one year. It is the first confirmed defection of a high-ranking North Korean diplomat since Chang Seung-gil, North Korea’s former ambassador to Egypt.

Ryu served as the acting ambassador to Kuwait while as counselor after So Chang-sik, its ambassador, was ordered to leave the Gulf region following sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council in September 2017.

The North Korean Embassy in Kuwait is a key outpost and the only embassy in the Gulf region, covering in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

Ryu joined the foreign ministry in Pyongyang after studying Arab at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies. He served posts in the Middle East including Syria, major weapons export countries of North Korea.

Ryu – who refrained from contact with the outside for over one year since he defected to the South in September 2019 – said that he decided to flee his country to “provide better future” to his children as a parent. His wife is also highly-educated and was also part of an elite society in North Korea.

Ryu’s father-in-law is Chon Il-chun, first vice department director of the party’s Central Committee who oversaw Room 39, a secretive North Korean party organization that managed the Kim family’s personal wealth. Chon was a classmate of Kim Jong-il, former North Korean leader and Jong-un’s father, and a safe keeper to the Kim father and son.

Thae Yong-ho, a lawmaker with South Korea’s main opposition People Power Party who also escaped the Communist regime, said that Chon’s son-in-law is a high-ranking official in the North and the fact that he is in South Korea shows Kim Jong-un regime is losing confidence from elites in Pyongyang.

Prolonged sanctions on North Korea and border closure with sole ally China due to Covid-19 have aggravated economic straits of the impoverished country.

According to multiple sources from the information authority on Sunday, the defection of Ryu came less than two months after the defection of Jo Song-gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Italy even as Pyongyang has upped oversight over its envoys.

Seo Jae-pyong, a North Korean defector and secretary general of the Association of the North Korean Defectors, said that diplomats have been pressured to play the role of mutual guard under the Kim Jong-un regime and faced punishment over for trivial troubles.

“North Korea seems to be imposing heavy punishment such as a purge on even small mistakes,” Seo said. “Diplomats that hear of such news from Pyongyang fret they could be next.”

[ㄏ Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]

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