Former North Korean diplomat urges missing colleague in Italy to go to South Korea, not US

This March 20, 2018 photo made available Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 by the Parish of Farra di Soligo, shows North Korea's acting ambassador to Italy Jo Song Gil, second from right, holding a model of "Bell of Peace of Rovereto" during a cultural event on the occasion of a visit of the North Korean delegation to the Veneto region, in San Pietro di Feletto, near Treviso, northern Italy. (AP)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Former North Korean diplomat urges missing colleague in Italy to go to South Korea, not US

  • To defect to the South is an “obligation, not a choice” for North Korean diplomats committed to unification, Thae said, calling Seoul “the outpost” for that task

SEOUL: A former North Korean diplomat who staged a high-profile defection to the South on Saturday urged an old colleague who has gone missing in Italy to defect to Seoul, following a report that he was seeking asylum in the United States.
Jo Song Gil, the 44-year-old who was until recently North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November, South Korean lawmakers said on Thursday.
Jo has sought asylum in the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence, Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper said on Friday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
The State Department and the US embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to a query from Reuters.
In an open letter, Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, who said he went to the same university and worked with Jo before defecting to South Korea in 2016, urged Jo to follow in his footsteps.
To defect to the South is an “obligation, not a choice” for North Korean diplomats committed to unification, Thae said, calling Seoul “the outpost” for that task.
“If you come to South Korea, the day when our suffering colleagues and North Korean citizens are liberated from the fetters would be moved forward,” Thae said in the letter released on his website.
“If you come to Seoul, even more of our colleagues would follow suit, and the unification would be accomplished by itself.”
Thae said his family visited Jo in Rome in 2008, where the latter was studying from 2006 to 2009. He guided them to sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
South Korea could not be “heaven on earth” but a place where Jo can realize his wishes, Thae said, highlighting the ardent desire for unification among many of the roughly 32,000 defectors there.
“The defectors may not be as wealthy as South Koreans,” Thae added. “But isn’t it the only thing you and I, as North Korean diplomats, should do the rest of our lives — to bring about unification and hand over a unified nation to our children?“
’SAFER PLACE FOR DEFECTION’
If confirmed to have fled, Jo would be another Europe-based diplomat who has sought to leave the impoverished, oppressive North under the rule of Kim Jong Un.
In 2015, a counsellor in charge of science affairs at the North’s embassy in Germany defected with his wife to an unidentified country, while a secretary-level trade official stationed in Bulgaria and his wife also fled, Thae told South Korean cable news Channel A in an interview this week.
South Korean officials said they could not comment on intelligence matters.
Europe could be a safer place for North Korean diplomats than elsewhere due to its openness to receiving asylum seekers, defectors and experts say.
North Korea has formal diplomatic ties with 26 European nations, as well as Britain and Germany, since 2013, Seoul’s Unification Ministry says.
Pyongyang requires diplomats going overseas to leave at least one child at home, but those from the top echelons or seen as the most loyal to the regime get some exceptions.
Jo hailed from a wealthy family of diplomats, and was able to take his child on his posting to Italy in 2015, Thae said.
“Diplomats in Europe are well-connected and sensitive to political changes at home, which allow them to make a move quickly,” said Ahn Chan-il, a former North Korean military officer and defector.
Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a North Korea specialist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said Europe offered a “more open, safer environment” for North Korean officials to discuss sensitive issues and consider defection.
“Also, Western European countries, such as Italy or the United Kingdom, are very likely to approve the asylum application or support the defection of any North Korean official who asks for it,” said Pacheco Pardo, who regularly meets North Korean officials and defectors in Europe.


Scores dead in bomb attacks in Sri Lanka

Updated 26 sec ago
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Scores dead in bomb attacks in Sri Lanka

  • Attacks happened as Christians attended Easter Sunday services
  • Sri Lankan police chief warned of planned attacks by radical Muslim group on ‘prominent churches’ 10 days before deadly blasts

COLOMBO: An eight blast has been reported in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, as the government announces immediate curfew.

The attack took place just hours after a string of bombings ripped through churches and hotels on Sunday monrning, killing at least 160 people.

Access to major social media platforms and messaging services has been shut down by the Sri Lankan government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the seventh blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala, killing two people.

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

The public has been told to excercise caution in the following days, with emergency numbers being circulated for people who want to seek help.

The country’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before the blasts that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital. Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant. He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

(Reuters)

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.” “I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added. Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the deadly string of Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka as “truly appalling.”