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Former North Korea acting envoy to Kuwait defects

SEOUL, Jan 26, (AP): A North Korean diplomat who served as the country’s acting ambassador to Kuwait has defected to South Korea, according to South Korean lawmakers who were briefed by Seoul’s spy agency. Ha Tae-keung, a conservative opposition lawmaker and an executive secretary of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, said Tuesday he was told by officials from the National Intelligence Service that the diplomat arrived in South Korea in September 2019 with his wife and at least one child. That would make him one of the most senior North Koreans to defect in recent years.

Ha Tae-keung

North Korea, which touts itself as a socialist paradise, is extremely sensitive about defections, especially among its elite, and has sometimes insisted that they are South Korean or American plots to undermine its government.

Ha said he was told that the diplomat, who changed his name to Ryu Hyun-woo after arriving in the South, had escaped through a South Korean diplomatic mission but that spy officials didn’t specify where. Ha said spy officials didn’t provide specific details as to why Ryu decided to defect. The office of Kim Byung-kee, a lawmaker of the ruling liberal party and the intelligence committee’s other executive secretary, said he was also told that Ryu was now living in South Korea. Kim’s aides didn’t elaborate further.

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