The daughter of a missing North Korean diplomat who is believed to be seeking asylum in Europe was separated from her parents and returned to Pyongyang, a prominent defector claimed this week, CNN reported.
Thae Yong Ho, who fled his post as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the UK in 2016, said Jo Song Gil, a former envoy to Rome, “wasn’t able to leave Italy with his children and North Korea has summoned his children back to North Korea.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Thae said a source in Pyongyang “told me that Jo’s daughter was in North Korea under state custody,” which he said explained Jo’s disappearance since he fled the Rome embassy late last year.
“Today, Jo cannot reveal where he is or engage in public activity because he must fear safety of his daughter,” Thae said. He added that while he had previously urged Jo to join him in Seoul, he would no longer advocate this, as “the level of punishment against family left behind of diplomats who defected to South Korea or to the US are very different.”
“I couldn’t keep up the demand that Jo come to South Korea since I found out that Jo’s daughter is in North Korea,” he said.
In a statement, the Italian Foreign Ministry said it had received a notice from the North Korean Embassy that Jo and his wife had left the embassy on November 10, “and that their daughter, having requested to return to her country to her grandparents, had returned there on November 14, 2018, accompanied by female staff from the Embassy.”
Last month, Thae and a number of other prominent North Korean defectors called on the Italian and South Korean governments to provide protection to Jo, whose whereabouts remain unknown. There are around 30,000 North Korean defectors and refugees registered with the South Korean government.