North Korea Italian ambassador ‘in hiding’

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North Korea ambassador to Italy has gone into hiding with his wife, according to reports for South Korea’s spy agency. Officials were told that Pyongyang’s top diplomat in Italy had sought asylum from an unidentified Western country.

Jo Song-gil, who is the acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, is also thought to be the son or son-in-law of one of the highest level officials in Pyongyang.

South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo daily paper said that Song-gil had sought asylum last month, after speaking with unnamed sources. Italian authorities are said to be “protecting him in a safe place”, but “agonising” over what to do.

The last senior diplomat from North Korea to defect was Thae Yong-ho, who abandoned his post as deputy ambassador in London in 2016. At the time of his defection, Thae, the former deputy ambassador to London, said he had switched sides partly to give his three children a better future after being ordered to return to the North.

Song-gil arrived in Rome in May 2015 with his wife and children, but only took up the role of ambassador in October 2017, suggesting he may be from a privileged family, the JoongAng said, adding the reason for his defection bid remained unclear.

This is a breaking news story, and is being updated.

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