North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to London said his homeland’s elite are outwardly expressing their discontent towards leader Kim Jong Un and his government as more outside information trickles into the isolated country.
During his first news conference with foreign media on January 25, Thae Yong Ho, who defected to South Korea in August, said: “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.”
“Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently unthinkable, is becoming more frequent,” added 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.”
Thae, 54, has said publicly that dissatisfaction with Kim Jong Un 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 because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North, which is subject to UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.
According to Reuters, Thae is the most senior official to have fled North Korea and entered public life in the South since the 1997 defection of Hwang Jang Yop, the brains behind the North’s governing ideology, “Juche”, which combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.