North Korean elite turning against leader Kim Jong Un, says defector

The North Korean elite are outwardly expressing their discontent towards Kim Jong Un regime as more outside information trickles into the isolated country, says North Korea's former deputy ambassador to London.
Mr Thae was North Korea's deputy ambassador to London when he defected.
Mr Thae was North Korea's deputy ambassador to London when he defected.

SEOUL • The North Korean elite are outwardly expressing their discontent towards young leader Kim Jong Un and his government as more outside information trickles into the isolated country, North Korea's former deputy ambassador to London said yesterday.

Mr Thae Yong Ho defected to South Korea in August last year and since December has been speaking to media and appearing on variety television shows to discuss his defection to Seoul and his life as a North Korean envoy.

"When Kim Jong Un first came to power, I was hopeful that he would make reasonable and rational decisions to save North Korea from poverty, but I soon fell into despair watching him purging officials for no proper reasons," Mr Thae said during his first news conference with foreign media yesterday.

"Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently unthinkable, is becoming more frequent," said Mr Thae, who spoke in fluent, British-accented English. "We have to spray gasoline on North Korea, and let the North Korean people set fire to it."

Mr Thae, 54, has said publicly that dissatisfaction with Mr Kim prompted him to flee his post. Two university-age sons living with him and his wife in London also defected with him.

North and South Korea are technically still at war. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.

Mr Thae is the most senior official to have fled North Korea and entered public life in the South since the 1997 defection of Mr Hwang Jang Yop, the brains behind the North's governing ideology, "Juche", which combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.

Today's North Korean system had "nothing to do with true communism", Mr Thae said, adding that the elite, like himself, had watched with unease as countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union embraced economic and social reforms.

He has said that more North Korean diplomats are waiting in Europe to defect to South Korea.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'N. Korean elite turning against leader Kim, says defector'. Print Edition | Subscribe