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Former N.K. envoy voluntarily came to S. Korea in July 2019, lawmaker confirms

All News 16:25 October 07, 2020

SEOUL, Oct. 7 (Yonhap) -- A senior North Korean diplomat who went missing in Italy in late 2018 has been living in South Korea since July last year, the head of the South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee confirmed Wednesday.

"Former acting Ambassador Jo (Song-gil) came to South Korea voluntarily in July 2019," Rep. Jeon Hae-cheol, chairman of the National Assembly's intelligence committee, told reporters. "He had repeatedly expressed his wish to come to South Korea."

In November of 2018, Jo disappeared without notice while serving as the North's acting ambassador in Rome, right before the expiration of his mandate. He was widely reported to be seeking asylum in a third country under the protection of the Italian and other governments.

This Associated Press file photo shows Jo Song-gil, North Korea's former acting ambassador in Rome, at an event in the Italian city of Treviso in March 2018. (Yonhap)

News of diplomat's whereabouts surfaced late Tuesday after Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party wrote on Facebook that Jo was found to have entered the South last year and was under government protection.

He is reportedly in the South with his wife. The couple's underage daughter was repatriated to North Korea in February of last year, according to Italy's foreign ministry.

According to Jeon, the matter was kept secret as Jo wanted his whereabouts to remain private. "He was concerned for his family remaining in North Korea," the lawmaker said.

When asked whether the governments of the two Koreas held talks on Jo's defection, Jeon declined to confirm. The lawmaker also sidestepped questions on other details surrounding the former Pyongyang diplomat.

Jo is the highest-ranking former North Korean official to settle in the South since Hwang Jang-yop, former secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party, who defected in 1997. Jo is also the first ambassador-level North Korean official to arrive in the South since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un came into power in 2011.

Missing NK ambassador reportedly in S. Korea after vanishing in 2018

odissy@yna.co.kr
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