North Korea Suffers 'Highest-Ranking' Defection
Thae Yong Ho has defected to South Korea
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2016 6:48 AM CDT
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee speaks about a senior North Korea diplomat's defection to South Korea during a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea,...   (Kim Hyun-tae/Yonhap via AP)
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(Newser) – A North Korean diplomat stationed in London vanished in mid-July, and Seoul is now explaining why: Thae Yong Ho has defected to South Korea, in what the BBC reports could be the "highest-ranking" defection North Korea has experienced. The New York Times calls Thae the "No. 2" official of the five stationed at North Korea's London embassy, and the Guardian reports it is the first such defection to have occurred since the embassy opened its doors 13 years ago.

Thae and his family "are currently under government protection and relevant institutions are going ahead with necessary procedures as usual," said a South Korean unification ministry rep. The Guardian calls the defection a "coup" for global intelligence agencies, who may be able to gain insight into Kim Jong Un's regime. In London, Pyongyang had charged Thae with keeping tabs on defectors living there, and was also supposed to combat negative perceptions of the North.