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

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.


Sudan peace talks stall as rebel group halts talks over attack

Updated 17 min 49 sec ago

Sudan peace talks stall as rebel group halts talks over attack

JUBA: Sudan peace talks stalled before they began in Juba on Wednesday as a key rebel grouping said it refused to negotiate with Khartoum, claiming government forces were still bombarding its territory.

Juba is hosting talks between the government of new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and representatives from two umbrella groups of rebels that fought forces of now ousted President Omar Bashir in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The talks were launched on Monday in the presence of heads of state from Ethiopia, Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.

The first face-to-face meeting between the adversaries was to take place in the South Sudan capital on Wednesday.

But Amar Amoua, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), told journalists his group would not continue unless the government withdrew from the area of the fighting, in the Nuba Mountains.

“Our coming back to negotiate ... is bound by government decisions to clear all these things,” Amoua, who is representing three different rebel movements, told journalists.

He said that for the past 10 days government forces had continued to attack their territory despite an unofficial cease-fire.

A chief was killed in the Nuba Mountains and several businessmen had gone missing, he charged.

“The government should withdraw its forces and stop ... occupying new areas, we will not allow that,” he said.

Dhieu Mathok, a member of the South Sudan mediation team, told AFP they were investigating the SPLM-N’s complaints.

“We are still investigating it whether there are really attacks in those areas or not, but this will not stop the peace process. Usually in a negotiation these things happen but we are here to resolve the problems.”

Mohammed Hassan, a spokesman for the Sudan delegation, attributed the fighting to an attack by herders on local merchants.

“The government regrets and condemns in the strongest terms these unfortunate events that keep happening in the area and in other parts of the country,” he said.

“We also regret that these events took place at a time when people are entering peace negotiations, and the country and the whole of the region is united for the cause of peace in Sudan.”

The new peace initiative comes after Bashir was toppled by the military in April.

Hamdok has been tasked with leading Sudan back to civilian rule, but he has said he also wants to end Khartoum’s conflicts with the rebels.

The years-long bloodshed has left hundreds of thousands of dead and forced millions to flee their homes.

The movement led by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu says it will not resume talks unless the government releases the detainees, withdraws from the area where they were seized, and declares a documented cease-fire. 

The SPLM-N is a rebel group in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which had ceased all hostilities as a “goodwill gesture” after the overthrow of President Bashir. Al-Hilu’s movement controls significant chunks of territory in the region.