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A South Korean man just defected to North Korea in an extremely rare case, 33 years after his parents did the same thing

Alexandra Ma , Business Insider US
 Jul 09, 2019, 03:46 PM
Government building in Kim Il-sung square, Pyongan Province, Pyongyang, North Korea on September 9, 2012 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
  • Choe In-guk, a 73-year-old South Korean man, defected to North Korea on Saturday.
  • Defecting from democratic South Korea to communist, isolated North Korea is extremely rare. Defections usually happen the other way around.
  • Choe's parents also defected from South Korea to the North in 1986, leaving behind their five children.
  • Choe on Saturday announced that he would "dedicate my remaining life to realising the achievement of the reunification" of the Korean Peninsula, North Korean media reported.
  • The peninsula split into North and South Korea in 1948, and the two countries technically still remain at war.
  • Visit Business Insider's home page for more stories.

A 73-year-old South Korean man has defected to the North in an extremely rare case.

Choe In-guk arrived in Pyongyang on Saturday and announced that he had moved there for good, North Korea's state-run Uriminzokkiri propaganda news site reported.

Uriminzokkiri posted photos of Choe, wearing a Western suit and a flat cap, arriving at Pyongyang Airport and accepting a bouquet of flowers, before reading from a prepared statement.

Defections from democratic South Korea to the communist, isolated North are extremely rare, with moves in the other directions much more common. Some 1,000 people risk their lives to flee the North for the South every year, NK News reported.

North Koreans rest by the Pothong river, North Korea, in July 2017.
Wong Maye-E (Associated Press)

Choe is the son of two high-profile South Koreans who also defected in the North in 1986, leaving behind their two sons - Choe included - and three daughters, South Korea's daily Korea Times newspaper reported.

Choe said he had defected to the communist North to work toward the reunification of the two Koreas, and thanked the ruling Kim dynasty for the "great love and care" that they had given to his family.

"The great love and care that the great Kim Il Sung, General Kim Jong Il, and President Kim Jong Un gave to my family started from my grandfather and has been continuing for three generations until today," he said, according to Uriminzokkiri.

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are the grandfather and father, and predecessors, of current leader Kim Jong Un.

Choe added: "I am willing to dedicate my remaining life to realising the achievement of the reunification of the nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Un."

The Korean Peninsula divided into the communist North and democratic South in September 1948, splitting up many families as a result.

The North invaded the South in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the peninsula by force. Because neither country signed a formal peace treaty at the end of it, the two countries are techically still at war.

South Korean soldiers guard the border village of Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in July 2017.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

South Koreans are legally required to request government permission to enter North Korea. But Choe did not apply for permission from Seoul to enter North Korea, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reported.

Oliver Hotham, the managing editor of the Seoul-based NK News website, told the BBC: "It's not yet clear how exactly his defection came about."

"But it would be fairly simple for a South Korean to get to the North if they had the regime's blessing by travelling through China," Hotham added.

In 2016, the South Korean government gave Choe permission to enter North Korea to attend his mother's funeral, South Korea's daily Korea Times newspaper reported.

If Choe returns to South Korea, he could be arrested for not seeking permission from the government, the BBC noted.

Choe's late father, Choe Deok-sin, worked as South Korea's foreign minister and an ambassador to West Germany in the 1960s, The New York Times reported.

Choe senior and his wife, Ryu Mi-yong, sought asylum in the US in 1977 and officially defected to North Korea in 1986, the Times added.

The couple took up political roles after defecting to the North.

Choe Deok-sin worked as vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, and chairman of the Korean Religionists Council, according to The New York Times.

Ryu was the chairwoman of the central committee of the Chondoist Chongu Party, a North Korean political party, South Korea's KBS World Radio reported.

She also became a member of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the North's rubber-stamp parliament, Korea Times noted.

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