Former North Korean diplomat writes open letter to 'missing' envoy to Italy

Reports: Jo Song Gil seeking asylum in the west

By SOPHIE JEONG, CNN
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Thae Yong-ho, former chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom, testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, November 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Yong-ho defected from North Korea in 2016. 

(CNN) - A former North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016 published an open letter Saturday to Pyongyang's "missing" chargé d'affaires to Italy, Jo Song Gil, suggesting he move to Seoul.

"Song Gil, I have no way to contact you directly, so I am posting a long letter to you on my blog that you used to often read," wrote Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang's former deputy envoy to the United Kingdom.

"From the day reports that your family disappeared in Italy came out, when my family wakes up in the morning, we go to the internet and look for news of your family."

A prominent South Korean newspaper reported Thursday that Jo was seeking asylum in the West, citing anonymous South Korean government sources. South Korea's National Intelligence Service did not confirm if he defected.

In the blog post, Thae addresses the rumors, saying the unification of the Korean Peninsula is dependent on more North Korean officials like Jo making the decision to defect.

"For you and me who are members of the people and North Korean diplomats, coming to South Korea is not a choice but an obligation," Thae wrote. "If you come to Seoul, more of our colleagues will follow after us and come to Seoul, and then the unification will happen on its own."

Thae also goes into several details about his life in Seoul as a North Korean defector.

"When you come to South Korea, you do not have to worry about personal safety. To protect me, several security guards stick closely and guard me every day," Thae wrote. "The country also provides rental housing and resettlement funds until you safely settle down."

A spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his office had no information about the case.

Italy's Foreign Ministry was not aware of an asylum request, a spokesman told CNN. Instead, the ministry was only told in late November that Jo would no longer be "in charge of business," it said.

If Jo did defect, he would be the highest-profile North Korean government official known to have done so since Thae in 2016.

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