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North Korean soldier critical: From MiG pilot to officials, defectors who escaped

It’s not unheard of for North Koreans to escape the isolated country.

world Updated: Nov 14, 2017 14:48 IST
HT Correspondent
A woman looks through binoculars towards North Korea from a South Korean observation post in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas.
A woman looks through binoculars towards North Korea from a South Korean observation post in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas.(AFP Photo)

A North Korean soldier is critical after he was shot while defecting to the South on Monday. He is undergoing surgical procedures, the South Korean government said on Tuesday.

It’s not unheard of for North Koreans to escape the isolated country, known to the outside world for human rights abuses and the harsh restrictions imposed by the regime led by Kim Jon-un. Earlier this year, Kim Jong Nam’s -- the younger brother of Kim Jong-un -- died after being poisoned by two female agents in Malaysia.

From spies to assassinations, take a look at North Korean defectors and their stories:

Defector or a spy?

Won Jeong-hwa, who entered South Korea around 2001 by posing as a defector from the North, was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in 2008.

South Korean authorities said she used sex to extract sensitive information from South Korean military officers and plotted to kill other officers. The South Korean media quickly dubbed her “North Korea’s Mata Hari” after the exotic dancer sent to obtain military secrets in World War I.

After her release from prison, Won said her Mata Hari image had been exaggerated by officials and the media, and that she had used sex as a spying tool only once. She said she had fallen in love with a junior army officer.

Won also said she disobeyed orders to kill two of her South Korean military intelligence sources with poison.

Won struggled to make a fresh start after her release from prison, amid allegations that she was just a low-level informant whose role was inflated by South Korean prosecutors. Won, however, insists she was a highly trained spy.

Family affair

Lee Han-young, a nephew of one of the former wives of the country’s second leader Kim Jong Il, was found dead of gunshot wounds in front of a Seoul apartment in 1997. Lee had defected to South Korea through Switzerland in 1982, but Seoul kept his arrival secret until 1996, when his mother also fled the North. Lee had harshly criticised the country and his dictator uncle. The investigation into his death concluded Lee was killed by North Korean agents sent to deliver Pyongyang’s payback and the assailants returned to North Korea before they could be captured.

A South Korean soldier runs along a military fence on the road leading to the truce village of Panmunjom at a South Korean military checkpoint in the border city of Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). (AFP Photo)

High-profile defector

In 2010, two agents posing as defectors were arrested in a plot to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, a former Workers’ Party secretary who remains the highest-level North Korean to seek asylum in the South. South Korean officials said both agents were majors in North Korea’s main army intelligence agency and were under orders to slit Hwang’s throat. Hwang, who once tutored Kim Jong Il, bitterly criticised the North Korean government after his 1997 defection. North Korea called him a traitor and “human scum.” He died six months after the arrests at the age of 87.

Reality TV star

Jeon Hye-sung, a North Korean defector became a well-recognised reality TV star in the South, but she returned to the Kim Jong-un led country earlier this year. She said she was told to “slander and speak ill” of the North Korean regime and she experienced “physical and psychological pain” in Seoul, reported CNN.

According to the Korea Hana Foundation, some 20% of 1,785 North Korean defectors said in a survey that they had suicidal thoughts in 2014.

Kim’s personal cook

Kenji Fujimoto claimed he started working at a Sushi restaurant in Pyongyang in 1982. Six years later, he agreed to serve as former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s personal chef. But Fujimoto became suspicious of being spied on and defected to Japan in 2001. Excerpts from his book recount a Jet Ski race with Kim Jong Il, preparing delicacies he personally brought from other countries and singing a song ‘The Bride in Seto’ together.

MiG pilot

In September of 1953, North Korean fighter pilot No Kum Sok had had enough of pretending he was the ‘No 1 Communist’. He climbed into a MiG-15 and flew to an American air base near Seoul in South Korea, according to a report by Politico.

Luckily for No Kum Sok, it was the Cold War era and the US had announced a $100,000 award for any Russian, Chinese or North Korea who brought a Soviet MiG fighter jet to Americans.

He eventually lived in Florida as an engineer under the name Kenneth Rowe.

(With agency inputs)