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N. Korean diplomat based in Ethiopia defects to S. Korea: source

All Headlines 15:12 January 26, 2010

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- A diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in Ethiopia defected to South Korea late last year after seeking asylum at the South Korean Embassy in the African country, an informed source said Tuesday.

The 40-year-old North Korean man, identified only by his surname of Kim, stormed into the South Korean embassy in October and spent several weeks there before arriving in Seoul in November, the source said, asking not to be identified.

Kim is a medical doctor by profession, the source added.

After becoming aware of Kim's defection, the North Korean Embassy in Ethiopia strongly protested, forming a "barricade" in front of the South Korean Embassy with several vehicles, according to the source.

Thousands of North Koreans defect to the South each year, either directly from their communist homeland or after first defecting to a third country, mostly China. However, defection by a North Korean diplomat, who belongs to the North's ruling elite group, is very rare.

The foreign ministry in Seoul, however, refused to confirm whether a North Korean diplomat has defected to South Korea.

"The government does not confirm any individual cases of defection because of the safety and privacy of the people involved," a ministry spokesman told reporters.

Over 16,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The number of defectors is quickly increasing every year, apparently due to the deteriorating conditions in the North. South Korea's Unification Ministry expects the accumulated number of defectors to exceed 20,000 this year.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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