Squeezed with the harshest-ever worldwide sanctions, North Korea is witnessing an unprecedented increase in the number of the country's elites abandoning their homeland, with the latest defection by a London-based diplomat highlighting the difficulties it is facing, officials and experts here said Wednesday.
The South Korean Unification Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Thae had defected for the sake of his family and because he was "tired of Kim Jong-Un's regime".
North Korea on Saturday called a senior diplomat who defected to the South "human scum" and accused him of sexually assaulting a minor in its first official response to the defection.
Thae, who was deputy ambassador at the North's embassy in London, defected with his family and arrived in the South, Seoul said late on Wednesday, an embarrassing blow for leader Kim Jong-un's increasingly isolated Pyongyang leadership.
The 55-year-old ex-Pyongyang official is reported the "highest-ranking" North Korean diplomat to leave the hermit kingdom for the South. Actually, Jong Sung-il defected and obtained asylum in the U.S. in 1997 while serving as the North Korean ambassador to Egypt.
Jeong refused to give further details about Thae's defection, citing possible diplomatic problems with a concerned country he did not identify.
The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not have an immediate comment after South Korea's announcement.
KCNA also criticised Britain for handing over Thae and his family to South Korea, saying that Pyongyang had previously told London of his crimes and requested his extradition.
Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's main internet-based media and propaganda website, said the exercise carried out along the demilitarised zone that separates the two countries on Thursday is an unacceptable challenge to North Korea and showed that the war monger in Seoul will only respond to merciless force. Hwang died in 2010.
The defection came at a time of high tensions on the divided peninsula.
Overall, the number of North Korean defectors to the South has declined since leader Kim took power following his father's death in late 2011. A diverse range of North Koreans residing overseas including employees at a North Korean restaurant in China have fled to South Korea this year.
Many North Koreans flee the country each year because of starvation and repression. Veterans of the partisan fight against the Japanese occupation, the Oh family is considered one of the most prestigious in North Korea.
KCNA did not name the "diplomat who fled his mission in London" but was apparently referring to Thae.
In an interview to the American news outlet, Liberty in North Korea director of Research and Strategy, Sokeel Park, said the defection "could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea". Thae had spoken publicly about living in London with his wife and said that his son attended high school in Acton, in west London. He is believed to have worked there for about 10 years. Later in April, South Korea also revealed that a colonel in North Korea's military spy agency had defected to the South previous year.
Wednesday's announcement came as North Korea is responding angrily to a US plan to place an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.