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(LEAD) 2 defector-turned-politicians apologize for remarks over N.K. leader's ill health

Politics 15:30 May 04, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info in paras 2-3,7-9; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- Two North Korean defectors elected as lawmakers in South Korea apologized Monday for their remarks suggesting Kim Jong-un's ill health amid public criticism over fake news about the North.

Thae Yong-ho, a former No. 2 diplomat in North Korea's Embassy in London, apologized as criticism has not subsided over the defector-turned-politicians' unconfirmed remarks on Kim's health.

The North's leader appeared in public for the first time in 20 days last week, debunking speculation that he might be seriously ill. Thae earlier said Kim "cannot stand up by himself or walk properly."

"I apologize to the public (over my remarks) whatever the reason is," Thae said in a statement. "As I received many rebukes for the last two days, I've been feeling the impact of my words keenly.

Thae, who won a seat in the recent parliamentary elections, said he felt a "heavy" responsibility for the impact his remarks could have as a lawmaker.

"I will promise to do parliamentary activity in a more prudent and modest manner," he said.

This file photo shows Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile North Korean defector elected as a lawmaker in South Korea. (Yonhap)

Later in the day, Ji Seong-ho, another North Korean defector elected as a lawmaker, apologized for what he said last week. Ji claimed he was "99 percent sure" of Kim's death.

"I deeply apologize to the public. I've been thinking about myself in the past few days. I deeply felt the weight of my post," Ji said in a statement.

Kim's absence from an annual event marking the April 15 birth anniversary of his late grandfather and national founder Kim Il-sung had spawned media speculation about his ill health. There was a report describing Kim as being in "grave danger after surgery.
Pyongyang's media reported Saturday that he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a fertilizer factory. It carried photos of Kim talking to officials with a smile.

South Korea's ruling party continued to criticize Thae and Ji for their remarks, with some lawmakers insisting that they should not sit on the parliamentary committees on defense and intelligence that handle sensitive information about North Korea.

This photo, taken on March 12, 2020, shows Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who was elected as a lawmaker in the April 15 elections. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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