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(LEAD) High-profile N. Korean defector announces bid to run in April elections

Politics 15:54 February 11, 2020

(ATTN: CLARIFIES with more details from para 3)

SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- A high-profile North Korean defector officially announced his bid to run in the April parliamentary elections Tuesday, vowing to work for inter-Korean unification if elected.

Thae Yong-ho, a former senior North Korean diplomat, joined the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and will run in a constituency in Seoul for the April 15 elections, not for a parliamentary proportional representation seat.

Thae, who defected to South Korea in 2016, said his potential victory could give hope to North Koreans aspiring for freedom and help the two Koreas move toward unification.

"I solemnly promise to devote myself in building a unified Korea through parliamentary activity," Thae said at a press conference at the National Assembly.

Thae, 57, said his decision came as he felt frustrated at the government's deportation of two North Koreans back to the communist country last year.

Seoul sent back the two men, in their 20s, to the North in November after learning that they killed 16 fellow crew members on their fishing boat and fled to the South.

"I felt huge frustrations at their repatriation, separately from talks over whether they were criminals or not," Thae said. "To prevent reoccurrence of the incident, I've come to think that I have to do parliamentary activity."

Thae criticized the liberal Moon Jae-in government's policies on North Korea and inter-Korean unification as moving in the "wrong direction."

"I deeply know about the North Korean regime more than any others," he said, adding that his experience and expertise will help the government make a "realistic" unification policy.

Thae, former North Korean deputy ambassador to London, reiterated his view that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not willing to give up nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Thae he will likely be granted the party's "priority recommendation" to run in a district in Seoul or its metropolitan areas.

LKP party officials earlier said Thae would be recommended to a constituency of the affluent Gangnam in southern Seoul, where the conservative party has been traditionally strong.

Several body guards accompanied Thae on his visit to the National Assembly as the government provides such security service to a North Korean defector.

Thae shrugged off concerns that he may face restrictions in election campaigning due to security issues.

Thae Yong-ho, former senior North Korean diplomat, announces his bid to run in the April 15 parliamentary elections at the National Assembly in Seoul on Feb. 11, 2020. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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