UK & World News

  • 6 December 2013, 16:58

North Korea: Aide To Kim's Uncle 'Defects'

A close aide of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's uncle - who has "disappeared" after being apparently sacked from his roles in the regime - is reported to have fled the country.

The unnamed defector is currently being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, cable news network YTN said, citing an unidentified source.

"A source familiar with the matter said the aide immediately requested asylum from the South Korean government and South Korean officials are currently protecting him at a secret place in China," it said.

The aide managed funds for Jang Song Thaek, who is married to Kim's aunt, before escaping the North, the source said.

His position, which through the family connections gave him proximity to Mr Kim himself, made him one of the most powerful men in North Korea, they added.

General Jang was sacked last month, the news of which was reported earlier this week. YTN said his fall from grace could have been a result of the aide's defection.

Two other aides were executed at the same time as Gen Jang was removed as vice chairman of the North Korean National Defence Commission (NDC), South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) said.

On Thursday, North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia Jang Yong-Chol - who is one of Gen Jang's nephews - was recalled to Pyongyang, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Asked about the South Korean media reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "We have noted the report, but do not understand the situation."

China, Pyongyang's only major ally, usually resists allowing defectors from North Korea to seek asylum elsewhere.

If the reports are true, the defection would be the first time in years that an important insider from the Pyongyang regime has switched sides.

About 25,000 North Koreans have defected to the South, but few of them were highly placed in Pyongyang.

North Korea's ruling Kim family is ruthless about protecting its security and privacy, and little is known about the inner workings of the regime.