- The Washington Times - Monday, January 25, 2021

A high-level North Korean diplomat who had been serving as a key representative for Pyongyang in the Middle East has defected to South Korea, according to sources in Seoul.

Ryu Hyun-woo, who was the charge d’affaires at the North Korean embassy in the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation of Kuwait, reportedly entered South Korea with his family months ago.

While The Washington Times could not immediately verify when the defection occurred, Reuters reported that Mr. Ryu arrived with his family in the South last September, with his discreet escape from the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un apparently going unreported prior to Monday.

Reuters cited Thae Yong Ho as its source. Mr. Thae, who was once North Korea’s deputy ambassador to Britain, is often described as the highest-level North Korean defector, having himself fled the Kim regime back in 2016 to Seoul, where he has since been elected to South Korea’s parliament.

It is not yet clear whether Mr. Ryu is of comparable stature to Mr. Thae. Reuters reported that he had led the North’s Kuwait embassy since Pyongyang’s former ambassador there, So Chang Sik, was expelled after a 2017 U.N. resolution sought to scale back the Kim regime’s overseas diplomatic missions. The news agency noted that Kuwait was a key source of foreign currency for Pyongyang, which had sent thousands of laborers there, mostly for construction projects.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, meanwhile, reported that Mr. Ryu is believed to be a son-in-law of Jon Il-chun, who once served as the head of North Korea’s secretive Office 39, an organization used by the Kim regime for clandestinely managing funds and procuring luxury goods.

There are reported to be as many as 30,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. A fraction of them are individuals believed to have worked at high levels of the isolated dictatorship controlling the North, and are known to be a key source of human intelligence on the secretive machinations of the Kim regime.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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