12/28/2010, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Top officials defect from North Korea

Three high-level officials defect despite greater border security. One of the three might know a lot about North Korea’s military cooperation with other countries, especially how it is able to evade UN sanctions and exchange weapons of mass destruction technology for hard currency.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Three high-level officials from North Korea have recently defected to the South as a result of rising tensions caused by the Yeonpyeong Island shelling incident and a loss of confidence among apparatchiks about the regime.

As a sign of things, the cost to would-be defectors of paying borders guards to “look the other way” has significantly increased. Crossing illegally the Tumen River (pictured) into China has gone from 2-2.5 million South Korean won (US$ 1,735-2,170) to 4 million (around US$ 3,500).

Other Chinese brokers active along the same river confirmed the report, saying, “North Koreans have stepped up border surveillance, and no one will lift a finger unless 4 million South Korean won is paid.”

For South Korean analysts, the defection of thee top level officials, which occurred despite tightened border security, is a sign of eroding confidence among the elite in leader Kim Jong Il's regime.

The first and most important of the three still nameless defectors is a Russian language translator working for the North Korean military. He requested asylum in Russia where he was working, but mindful of relations with North Korea Russian authorities turned him down. However, with the assistance of UN officials, he is expected to relocate to South Korea.

The defection could have serious implications for Pyongyang if the translator was privy to discussions on military cooperation between high-level North Korean military officials and their foreign counterparts.

Some reports said he knew a lot about the inner workings of the regime and may be able to shed light on the means by which North Korea evades UN Security Council sanctions, including rumoured exports of North Korean technology linked to weapons of mass destruction sold in exchange for hard currency.

The second defector was the first secretary of the Youth League in North Korea’s Yanggang province. Despite his impressive political resume and future membership in the [North Korean] Workers’ Party Central Committee, he chose to defect to South Korea after he was caught watching a South Korean soap opera and subjected to severe criticism by the party.

The third official who defected was the general manager of the state-run Prongyang Okryukwan cold noodle restaurant.

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