South Korean man defects to the North

Choe In-gukImage copyright

Image caption

Choe In-guk received a warm welcome in Pyongyang

A South Korean man has defected to North Korea, say media reports, in a very rare case of someone seeking to live in the authoritarian state.

Choe In-guk is the son of two high level diplomats who also defected to the North in the 1980s.

According to North Korean state media he will live in the North and work on reunification issues.

Defections this way are very rare. It is more common for people from the North to try to escape to the South.

The two countries are technically still at war and South Koreans need permission to visit the North.

“It’s not yet clear how exactly his defection came about,” Oliver Hotham of specialist news site NK News, based in Seoul, told the BBC.

“But it would be fairly simple for a South Korean to get to the North if they had the regime’s blessing by travelling through China.”

But if Mr Choe has violated South Korean law by not seeking permission, he could potentially be arrested if he ever returned to the South, experts say.

Who is Choe In-guk?

Mr Choe is a 73-year old South Korean citizen, but little is known about his personal life or political views.

His parents, however, were among some of the most high-profile South Koreans to defect to the North in the 1980s.

Mr Choe’s arrival in Pyongyang was reported by the North’s state media, which showed him being warmly received by North Korean officials.

According to South Korean media, he gave a statement to North Korean propaganda website Uriminzokkiri saying: “To live in and follow a country for which I feel thankful is a path to protect the will left by my parents.

“So I’ve decided to permanently live in North Korea, albeit belatedly.”

Mr Choe reportedly frequently travelled to the North in recent years, including for his mother’s funeral there in 2016.

Who were his parents?

His father Choe Tok-sin served as foreign minister of South Korea during the 1960s.

In the 1970s he emigrated to the US where he became a stern critic of the South Korea government under military leader Park Chung-hee.

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Media captionFour defectors talk about what life is like in North Korea

A decade later he made headlines by defecting to the North along with his wife, Ryu Mi-yong.

Both became part of the political elite in their new home country.

Defectors from North and South

The more common case of defectors in the Korea conflict are citizens of the North who try to escape from the closed-off country. Such defections are very dangerous.

In some cases soldiers have crossed the border on foot, often under a hail of bullets.

Others have escaped into China and then travelled on from there to the South.

The most high profile defections from the North have been diplomats trusted by Pyongyang like the ambassadors to Italy or the UK.

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