South Korea, Japan deny reports of high-profile North Korea defections

SEOUL, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Two North Korean officials in Beijing may have defected to a third country according to South Korean media, but Seoul and Tokyo have denied the claims.

A source on North Korea who spoke to South Korean news agency Yonhap said Wednesday the officials were representatives of Pyongyang’s health ministry and fled with their families in late September.

It was not confirmed whether the defectors had left for South Korea or Japan, the source said.

One of the officials had worked at the exclusive Ponghwa Clinic that caters to the medical needs of Kim Jong Un and his family.

The official was responsible for the procurement of medicine and medical equipment in China for elite healthcare facilities in North Korea, according to the source.

Neither of the officials were diplomats but trade representatives, according to South Korean news service Newsis.

On Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied the report and said the Japanese embassy in Beijing was never contacted by any North Korean national seeking asylum in Japan, NHK reported.

Suga also said he does not know any North Korean national who hopes to defect in response to a report from South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo that quoted a source as saying the North Korean officials were planning to flee to Japan.

In South Korea the unification ministry said there is “nothing to confirm” about the defections, local news service News 1 reported.

Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee instead said there are “signs of cracks” in the North Korean regime but refused to elaborate, saying such signs only “binds the regime even further,” a possible reference to political crackdowns under Kim that have taken place as more North Koreans seek to leave the country.

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