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Top North Korean official defects

walking

Close aide to Kim Jong Il seeks asylum in South Korea

February 12, 1997
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT)

In this story:

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- A close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apparently defected Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to ask South Korea for asylum.

Hwang Jang Yop, a secretary of North Korea's powerful Workers' Party, and an aide have asked for political asylum at the South Korean embassy in Beijing, said Chung Jong-wook, South Korea's ambassador to China.

"Since his free will to defect has been confirmed, the issue will be handled through consultations with the Chinese government," Chung said.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was "inconceivable and impossible" that Hwang had asked for asylum, and said if Hwang was in the South Korean embassy at Beijing, it meant "that he has been kidnapped by the enemy."

The spokesman threatened "due countermeasures" if Pyongyang determines that Hwang was kidnapped.

"We are seeking information from the Chinese side through relevant channels," the spokesman told the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

China is North Korea's closest ally, and a 1978 treaty requires it to return to the North any North Koreans found without valid travel documents.

Emergency Cabinet meeting called

The South Korean Cabinet was holding an emergency meeting to discuss ways of bringing the two to Seoul. Chang Moon Ik, a spokesman at the South Korean embassy in the Chinese capital, said Hwang and the aide were now under the embassy's protection.

The aide was identified as Kim Duk Hung, president of a North Korean trading company.

Hwang could be an invaluable source of information about the workings of North Korea's secretive communist government, which rules one of the world's most closed societies.

Hwang is one of the key architects of North Korea's ideology of self-reliance. He was in Tokyo attending a North Korean- sponsored seminar, and was to return to Pyongyang via Beijing.

Famine, disillusionment behind defection?

Hwang was shown on KBS-TV Tuesday night at Tokyo's Narita Airport. He had been in Tokyo to promote peace, he said.

food

The Japanese media speculated that Hwang may have feared a return to North Korea after failing to secure more pledges of food aid while in Japan. U.N. officials say that North Korea faces an imminent famine because two years of flooding have aggravated a chronic food shortage.

Noriyuki Suzuki of Radiopress, a Japanese service that monitors North Korea, suggested that Hwang may have been disillusioned with North Korea's shift from self-reliance to "blind faith in the great leader."

News of Hwang's defections comes just four days before Kim Jong Il's 55th birthday. Hwang's wife, two sons and a daughter remain in North Korea.

Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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