North Korea diplomat 'defects to South Korea': Reports

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image captionFor non-diplomats, escape means crossing a heavily guarded border

A high-ranking North Korean diplomat has defected to South Korea, media reports say.

Ryu Hyun-woo was acting ambassador to Kuwait and is thought to have fled with his family in September 2019, the Maeil business daily said.

The reports said he wanted to ensure a better future for his children.

This echoes the case of Jo Song-gil who was stationed in Italy and reported "missing" in 2018. He defected in 2019, and the case made public in 2020.

South Korean officials have refused to confirm the reports.

It is usually very rare for senior North Korean officials to defect although about 1,000 people defect from the country every year.

But it isn't easy.

For most North Koreans, it means either a dangerous escape across the highly fortified border to the South, or trying to cross over the border to China from where they risk being sent back to the North.

The media reports said Ryu Hyun-woo is thought to have arrived in South Korea in September 2019 to seek asylum there but his defection was kept secret until now.

He was the acting ambassador in Kuwait since 2017.

Mr Ryu is thought to be the son-in-law of Jon Il Chun, former head of the office in charge of secret funds of the North Korean leadership.

North Korea's deputy ambassador to the UK, Thae Yong-ho, also defected with his family in 2016. Four years later, he became the first ever defector to win a constituency seat in South Korea.

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