North Korean am­bas­sador to Italy re­port­edly in hid­ing

The Mercury News Weekend - - OTHER VIEWS - By Min Joo Kim and Ste­fano Pitrelli

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA » North Korea’s top diplo­mat in Italy has gone into hid­ing, South Korea’s in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials told law­mak­ers on Thurs­day.

Jo Song Gil, the act­ing North Korean am­bas­sador to Rome, dis­ap­peared from the of­fi­cial res­i­dence in what would be the lat­est in a grow­ing list of de­fec­tions by Py­ongyang’s en­voys.

Such a high-pro­file break would be a hu­mil­i­at­ing blow to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who is seek­ing to es­tab­lish him­self as a le­git­i­mate leader with global stand­ing af­ter a year of un­prece­dented diplo­matic outreach.

South Korean law­maker Kim Min-ki briefed re­porters about Jo’s pos­si­ble de­fec­tion based on in­for­ma­tion shared by Seoul’s spy agency in a closed- door hear­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­maker, Jo and his wife dis­ap­peared be­fore the end of his term, which was sched­uled for late Novem­ber.

The law­maker said that in the two months since, Jo has not con­tacted South Korea’s Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency, sug­gest­ing that he could be seek­ing asy­lum in a dif­fer­ent coun­try.

A press of­fi­cer for the Ital­ian For­eign Min­istry said of­fi­cials there have no record of the de­fec­tion and that the North Kore­ans no­ti­fied the min­istry six weeks ago that Jo was leav­ing his post.

Of­fi­cials at the North Korean Em­bassy in Rome could not be reached for com­ment.

An­to­nio Razzi, a former Ital­ian law­maker, said in a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day that he had got­ten to know Jo over the years and that they had last met Oct. 29.

Over lunch that day, Jo told him that his term was over and that he had to fly back home.

“He told me he would first go on a tour of Italy with his fam­ily,” said Razzi, who is the head of the Ital­ian-North Korean bi­lat­eral friend­ship group.

A month later, Razzi tried to call Jo’s Ital­ian cell num­ber, with no luck.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.