South Korea says the No. 2 official at the North Korean embassy in London was the North's most senior diplomat to defect to the South. This is the latest in a series of defections from Kim Jong Un's totalitarian state.
North Korea called the senior North Korean diplomat who defected earlier this week "human scum" and a criminal. It was the government's first official response to the defection.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) accused Seoul of exploiting the defection of Thae Yong Ho for propaganda purposes, intended to embarrass the North's leader, Kim Jong Un.
The Pyongyang government also slammed the British government for disregarding international protocol and rejecting its demand to have Thae returned to North Korea, and instead handing him over to the South Koreans.
Thae was formerly a minister at the North's embassy in London. He is believed to have worked there for about 10 years. One of his main tasks was to counter the image of North Korea as a nuclear pariah state and notorious human rights abuser.
KCNA didn't identify Thae by name, but said Pyongyang had ordered the "fugitive" to return to his country in June, where he was allegedly being investigated for a series of crimes, including embezzling government funds, leaking state secrets and sexually assaulting a minor.
The government mouthpiece said Thae "should have received legal punishment for the crimes he committed, but he discarded the fatherland that raised him and even his own parents and brothers by fleeing, thinking nothing but just saving himself, showing himself to be human scum who lacks even an elementary level of loyalty and even tiny bits of conscience and morality that are required for human beings."
South Korea's Unification Ministry announced the defection on Wednesday. It said Thae was the second-highest diplomat at the North's embassy, and called him the North's most senior diplomat to ever defect to the South.
A history of defections
In 1997, Pyongyang's ambassador to Egypt defected and eventually settled in the United States.
The Seoul ministry said Thae defected out of disgust with Kim's government, his desire to live in a Korean democracy and worries about his children's future.
Kim's government frequently accuses the South of bribing its citizens to defect, or claims Seoul simply kidnaps them.
In April, 13 North Korean restaurant workers in China defected to South Korea. It was the largest group defection since Kim came to power in 2011. Also in April, Seoul announced that a colonel in North Korea's military spy agency had defected to the South last year.
Whether this represents a new wave of defections from the North is hard to say because the South doesn't always publicize them.
bik/rc (AP, AFP)