North Korean ambassador to Italy, reportedly disappeared in November, seeking asylum in western countries

January 3, 2019 | Brainwave Science



According to news published by several media outlets, South Korean intelligence has confirmed that Jo Song Gil, Pyongyang’s top diplomat in Rome, has gone missing. Media reported that Italian officials are wringing their hands over what to do, but Italy denies knowledge. In the latest development, a South Korean MP has confirmed that North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, Jo Song-Gil, has gone into hiding, after reports he had asked for asylum. Kim Min-Ki said Jo’s mandate had been due to end in late November, and he and his wife had fled the North Korean embassy in Rome without notice at the beginning of that month. South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported that Jo had applied for asylum to an unidentified western country in December at the time when he was ordered to return to North Korea. The Italian confirmed that they had not given asylum to Jo. The Italian Foreign Ministry added that North Korea had told them they would be sending a new ambassador to Rome in late 2018 following normal procedures.

North Korean diplomats serving overseas are often required to leave behind several family members – typically children – to discourage their defection. However, Jo came to Rome in May 2015 with his wife and children, suggesting he may be from a privileged family, JoongAng said.


A high-profile defection by one of North Korea’s elite would be a huge embarrassment for leader Kim Jong Un as he pursues diplomacy with Seoul and Washington and seeks to portray himself as a player in international geopolitics. The last senior North Korean diplomat known to have defected is Thae Yong Ho, a former minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, who fled to South Korea in 2016.

Thae, who has been an outspoken critic of Kim Jong Un while living in South Korea, denied the accusations and said he defected because he didn’t want his children to live “miserable” lives in the North.

It’s possible that Jo is trying to defect for reasons related to fear of persecution back home, said Koh, who is a policy adviser for South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “It could be difficult for some diplomats to accept being called back to the North after enjoying years living in the free West. They could want their children to live in a different system and receive a better education.”

The disappearance of Jo Song-Gil comes after a year that saw a dramatic turnaround in relations between North and South Korea, with three meetings held between the countries’ leaders. It is surely an act of delicate balance of diplomacy in inter-Korean relations, it can very easily escalate tensions if Pyongyang thinks the escape of Jo Song Gil was arranged by South Korean authorities.



Threats and risks to national security have diversified and become more complex, this means that national security challenges are increasingly complex, ambiguous, destabilizing and potentially catastrophic. As the North and South Korea make steady progress toward reconciliation in an age of complex and intertwined security challenges, it is essential that the talks between these two nations progress in the right direction. As recently as the end of year North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had vowed in a rare letter to meet the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “frequently” next year to discuss de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Any indication of involvement of South Korea in the disappearance of Jo Song-Gil can radically impact the effort for peace and de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to ensure peace in the region.

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Source: BBC News