North Korea 'purged minister after diplomat fled'

By Sam Kim

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo / AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo / AP

North Korea has purged a deputy foreign minister as punishment for the defection of a high-ranking diplomat, South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said.

Kim Jong Un recently banished Vice-Foreign Minister Kung Sok Ung and his family to a farming area.

The move came after the mid-year defection to South Korea of Thae Yong Ho, who was second in command at the North Korean Embassy in London, the paper reported today, citing a person familiar with North Korean affairs it did not identify.

South Korea is checking the report, Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee said at a briefing. Kung oversaw embassies in Europe before being removed from his post, JoongAng said.

Thae's defection prompted a probe within North Korea's Foreign Ministry and led to four other officials being expelled from Pyongyang, the report said.

Around the time Thae travelled to South Korea, a North Korean official in charge of earning hard currency in Vladivostok disappeared with large sums of money, it added.

Separately, South Korea's Yonhap News reported today that a senior official at North Korea's spy agency fled south last year.

North Korean leaders, including Kim's father and grandfather, have used purges to tighten their grip on power.

Some officials have been reinstated while others have disappeared permanently.

Kim executed his uncle and one-time deputy Jang Song Thaek in 2013 on charges of graft and factionalism.

Following North Korea's fifth nuclear test last month, South Korean President Park Geun Hye again called for North Koreans to flee the isolated nation.

The Government in Seoul should make sure it's capable of accommodating North Koreans, she said this week at a Cabinet meeting.

- Bloomberg

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