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Ex-N. Korean official in Austria says he unsuccessfully sought asylum in S. Korea

All Headlines 10:29 March 12, 2010

BERLIN, March 12 (Yonhap) -- A former North Korean official who reappeared recently after spending 16 years in hiding in Austria says he unsuccessfully tried to seek political asylum in South Korea a few years ago.

Kim Jong-ryul, who made headlines early this month in a surprise reappearance with a book offering glimpse into the plush life of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, told Yonhap News Agency on Thursday that he contacted South Korea's embassy in Austria in 2006 in an asylum bid.

"But it fell through. As the embassy official rejected me, it amounts to the South Korean government's rejection," Kim said in a telephone interview with Yonhap News. "It appears they did so because I'm a communist with horns."

A senior official at the embassy in Austria acknowledged that Kim had contacted the mission, but said he then fell off the radar without a clear explanation.

"It appears that the dialogue back then did not go smoothly," the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the embassy has had no contact with Kim since his resurfacing.

Kim, 75, had worked in Austria for two decades from the early 1970s, posing as a trade firm employee and shipping to North Korea whatever Kim Il-sung wanted. In 1994, he faked his own death and went into hiding.

His reappearance drew wide media attention. He held a press conference to announce his book, and afterward officially sought asylum in Austria.

Kim Jong-ryul said the former North Korean leader spent millions of dollars buying everything from luxury cars, carpets and exotic foods as well as security equipment like poisonous gas detectors, while his people struggled amid poverty.

"When a person reaches 70, he thinks about death," Kim told Yonhap. "I asked myself whether I should die like this, and thought that I should offer some last words. That's why I decided to publish the book."

Kim said life after his disappearance was harsh.

"I have slept on the same bed every day for the past 5,619 days in an underground room in a small rural village on the outskirts of Vienna," he said, adding that he lived on a small amount of money he stashed away beforehand. "I think I lived on about 3.5 euros a day, which is not even enough to buy a pack of cigarettes."

Kim said he made up his mind to desert his homeland after the 1994 death of Kim Il-sung, also North Korea's founder and current leader Kim Jong-il's father. He said he predicted at the time that the Pyongyang regime wouldn't last more than five years.

He now thinks the regime is unlikely to collapse any time soon because it keeps such tight control over the people.

"About 10,000 people at most want the dictatorship to continue, oppressing and suppressing the people," he said.

Kim has a family back in North Korea and expressed concern about them.

"I haven't had any contact with them for the past 16 years," he said. "I have a wife, a daughter and a son (in the North). My son must be about 45 years old and my daughter about 40 years old."

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