More elite flee though Pyongyang tightens up

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More elite flee though Pyongyang tightens up

More members of North Korea’s elite are fleeing to the South to escape Kim Jong-un’s “reign of terror,” while the number of ordinary North Korean defectors has fallen as Kim strengthens control over the nation’s borders with China.

South Korea’s Defense and Unification Ministries on Monday confirmed a report by Yonhap News Agency that a senior colonel working at the North Korea military’s General Reconnaissance Bureau defected to the South last year.

Seoul also confirmed a Yonhap report that claimed a North Korean diplomat stationed in an African country defected to South Korea with his family members in May of last year.

The two were rare high-level defections amid dropping numbers of North Korean defectors who fled to South Korea since Kim took control in 2011. The number of North Koreans who defected to the South was 2,706 in 2011. It then plunged in 2012 to 1,502, and last year marked the lowest rate in more than a decade, with 1,276 defectors. Kim has responded by enhancing border security and surveillance, which includes allowing guards to kill people who try to defect.

However, since the young leader succeeded the late dictator Kim Jong-il in 2011, around 20 North Korean defectors, who used to be senior officials in the North, have sought asylum to the South.

“In recent years, the number of North Korean defectors who worked overseas has increased,” said Lee Soo-seok, a chief researcher at Institute for National Security Strategy. “A notable trend is that some of them defect on the grounds of their children’s education and freedom.”

According to the Unification Ministry, the 13 North Korean defectors, who escaped from a North Korean restaurant in a Chinese city Ningbo and arrived in the South on Thursday, said they didn’t want to go back to North Korea for various reasons. One of them said, “I want to continue studying, which is something that I couldn’t finish doing if I went back to the North.”

Another defector said she had “realized the true meaning of happiness after experiencing life overseas.”

Most of the defectors, who would be members of the North’s middle class, are children of the Pyongyang’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea members or government officials.

BY CHUN SU-JIN, KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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