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Rare South Korean defector moves to North, like his high-ranking parents did 30 years ago

Rare South Korean defector moves to North, like his high-ranking parents did 30 years ago
The son of a former South Korean minister, who fled to the US and later to North Korea, has followed in his late parents’ footsteps. The rare northward defector says he will devote the rest of his life to the reunification cause.

The South Korean Ministry of Unification confirmed on Sunday that Choe In-guk, son of former South Korean foreign minister Choe Tok-sin and Ryu Mi-yong, touched down in Pyongyang on Saturday, saying that the circumstances around his visit are the subject of an investigation.

The ministry said, according to South Korea’s Newsis News Agency, that Choe did not seek approval for his trip. Under current regulations, South Koreans must obtain a permit from both Seoul and Pyongyang before crossing the border to the North. Choe is believed to have traveled through a third country to circumvent the ban.

Photos of Choe’s welcome at the Pyongyang Airport were published by the North Korean state-controlled news website Uriminzokkiri.

Photos show Choe smiling as he is greeted with a bouquet of flowers presented by North Korean officials, who appear to be equally overjoyed at his arrival. In a statement he gave just after setting foot on the North Korean soil, 73-year-old Choe regretted not having settled down in Pyongyang earlier, while heaping praise on the country’s late leaders Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and the current leader Kim Jong-un, and their “great love and care” for his family.

Choe In-guk’s father Choe Tok-sin fell out with South Korea’s strongman president Park Chung-hee in the 70s and sought to emigrate to the US in 1976. His career made a sharp U-turn in the 80s when he, along with his wife Ryu Mi-yong, moved to North Korea after several meetings with Kim Il-sung.

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Both became members of political elite in their newfound home. Choe Tok-sin served as the deputy head of Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, while his wife was the chairwoman of a minor North Korean party and was awarded several prestigious government orders.

"To live in and follow a country for which I feel thankful is a path to protect the will left by my parents. So I've decided to permanently live in North Korea, albeit belatedly," Choe said, vowing to continue his parents’ work.

Choe had repeatedly visited North Korea on humanitarian grounds before, with Seoul's permission. The South Korean Ministry of Unification revealed that Choe had made the trip 12 times since 2001, including for his mother’s funeral in 2016 and her memorial services in the two subsequent years.

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