North Korea purges Vice-Foreign Minister over diplomat's defection: Report

A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on Thae Yong Ho, North Korea's deputy ambassador in London, who has defected with his family to South Korea.
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on Thae Yong Ho, North Korea's deputy ambassador in London, who has defected with his family to South Korea. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea has purged its  Vice-Foreign Minister as punishment for the recent defection of the nuclear-armed country's deputy ambassador to Britain, South Korean media reported on Wednesday (Oct 12).

The mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo, quoting an anonymous source familiar with North Korean affairs, said that Mr Kung Sok Ung had been removed from his post and expelled from Pyongyang to a rural farming area with his family.

It said the purge was ordered by supreme leader Kim Jong Un following the defection of the North's Deputy Ambassador to Britain Thae Yong Ho and his family to the South two months ago.

"Since Thae Yong Ho's defection in late July, there has been an overall inspection throughout the Foreign Ministry," the source said.

"Kung Sok Ung was held accountable for the embassies in Europe and purged as a result."

The report said four other high-ranking diplomats in charge of European affairs were also expelled from Pyongyang.

The 72-year-old Kung is a veteran diplomat who had been looking after North Korea's diplomacy with Russia and Europe for nearly two decades.

Since taking power in 2011, Mr Kim has ordered numerous executions and purges of high-ranking officials to solidify his grip on power.

In August, South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed that the North executed a vice-premier for education for showing disrespect to the leader during a meeting.

The most notorious case was that of Mr Kim's uncle and one-time number two, Mr Jang Song Thaek, who was executed for charges including treason and corruption in December 2013.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency has put the number of party officials executed during Mr Kim's rule at over 100.