The North Korean Defector BBC News Special


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The North Korean Defector

An interview with Thae Yong-ho, formerly a diplomat for Pyongyang in London, who in August 2016 became one of the highest-ranking officials ever to defect from North Korea.


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The White House hasn't released details but a draft called for a 30

:00:00.:00:00.

day suspension on visas for people from countries including Syria and

:00:00.:00:00.

Iraq has been put in place. In August, 2016, Thae Yong-ho became

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one of the highest ranking officials ever to defect from North Korea. He

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had been a diplomat for Tongan in London. He has been speaking to our

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sole correspondent. I'm Steve Evans and this is Seoul,

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one of the most prosperous and bustling cities in Asia. It is only

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100 miles from Pyongyang, but in terms of atmosphere and attitude it

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is 1 million miles away. This is now the home of Thae Yong-ho, the North

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Korean diplomat who defected from London. He lives here in secret,

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accompanied by a body guards, often in disguise. North Korea called him

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human scum and that's because he was so central to North Korea's

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diplomatic effort. I will be talking to him in a moment. He lived in

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London with his family and the families of two other North Korean

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diplomats in the embassy. Outwardly a bush while suburban house. Thae

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Yong-ho escorted Kim Jong-un's brother to a rock concert in the

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Royal Albert Hall. -- outwardly a Rouge was. He summed the praises of

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socialism. And now in South Korea where I met him. He won't say how he

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got here. The secret services of the United States or Britain, or South

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Korea helped? Hao Wei you getting on in Seoul? But he did talk about how

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his family turned him against the regime in Tom Young. -- how are you

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getting on. Me and my family, my sons and my wife, did not come to

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that kind of conclusion just in one day. At the first stage there is a

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kind of ideological debate inside the family, especially between me

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and my son is, when my son is entered the UK's university, the

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education they received was quite different to what they got in North

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Korea. It was something totally different. So at first they started

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to ask me questions, why, when they learned history in high school, then

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my son after school he came to me and asked which is right, about the

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Second World War, the First World War. So there was quite a different

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explanation about the same thing in the UK and North Korea. So first of

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these questions started to come up to me and then these questions

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pushed me into a very difficult situation, e-commerce as a father I

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have to tell the truth. -- because as a father. And if I tell the truth

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then my explanation would be quite different to what the North Korean

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regime, you know, so far brainwashed. But as a father I can't

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tell them liars, so I started to tell them the truth. Meanwhile, the

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environment of my sons was a little bit difficult for my sons to cope

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with. For instance, when my son had long hair, then his friends may ask

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questions like, aren't you afraid of being arrested by Kim Jong-un

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because you have long hair? In North Korea, if anyone has long hair, that

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is the subject of these kinds of questions. They always make my son

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is very difficult when they mingle with British friends. And his

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friends asked my son questions like why there is no internet, why North

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Korea and are forbidden to access internet. My sons asked me, wiry

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doesn't the North Korean regime allowed the internet? These very

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simple questions. I have to tell them the long story wire, why are

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politically. So these kinds of questions and debate is started

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inside my family. At that time I thought my sons deserve the truth.

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But the truth is very dangerous, isn't it? Because if you were then

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putting the party line out in public, but the truth to your

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sons... There was a danger that your sons were going to say, my dad

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doesn't believe all that stuff, and then your life was in danger. That's

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right. I always have to remind my son that they should keep what I

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told them in their mind. They should not tell anyone. As a diplomat, I

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have to pretend to be loyal to the regime. So all these things put me

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in a very difficult condition inside the family and, meanwhile, I learnt

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that since my sons knew the truth it would be very difficult for them in

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their future to survive in North Korea. Was it gradual? It was a very

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long process. Because a year ago even you are going to public

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meetings with the Communist Party and singing the praises of Kim

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Jong-un and socialism. So did you believe it when he said that? No,

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because actually to be honest my doubt on the North Korean regime and

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North Korean society started even in the late 1990s. Making the decision

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was that I was lucky to bring both of my sons to London, because

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diplomats of North Korea should leave one of his children in

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Pyongyang, to abuse this to a love between parents and children as a

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kind of tool to control the diplomats. But I was lucky. You

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still have family in North Korea. Will you ever see them again, will

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you ever talk to them again? You have any indication about how they

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feel? So far now iambic target of the organisation by the North Korean

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regime. -- now I am the target. I am sure that my relatives, my brother

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at and sisters, family, by now are all sent to either removed, closed

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areas or prison camps. So that really breaks my heart. If you could

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imagine your rather shouting at you, why did you do this to me? --

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brother. Why did you put me in this place? What would you say? That is

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really, you know, a question which I do not like to even think about.

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Yes. But that's why I am very much now determined to do everything

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possible to pull down the North Korean regime, in order to save not

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only my family members but the whole North Korean people from slavery.

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The think you will ever see your brother again? I am absolutely sure

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and this is my dream, to walk back to my hometown. Lots of people

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outside say there is a prison camp system in North Korea, Gulag system.

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The regime in Pyongyang emphatically denies that. What's the truth of it

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as you see it? All North Korean people know that there is a prison

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camps. It is common knowledge inside North Korea. And it is the kind

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of... One part of everyday life in North Korea, that if you commit any

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crime is which is the threat to the system, then you will be sent to

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these prison camps. Thousands of families in Pyongyang were all sent

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to the prison camps. Not one or two, thousands of families were sent to

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prison camps. There is a new president in Washington with a very

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different tone and many policy. And your former country is much closer

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to having nuclear weapons. What do you think should be done? The Trump

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administration should not acknowledge the status of North

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Korea as a nuclear power, because Kim Jong-un and the regime want to

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achieve a kind of compromise between North Korea and America. So the

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American administration should not fall in this trap. Don't do deals?

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To do deals, and they should continue to push the sanctions and

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they should continue the concerted effort to sanction North Korea, the

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North Korea should give up the nuclear weapons programme itself.

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If, when, Kim Jong-un gets the bomb properly, and missiles to deliver,

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is he capable of pressing that Hutton and destroying Los Angeles?

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Kim Jong-un knows quite well that nuclear weapons are the only

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guarantee for his rule. Kim Jong-un, I think, will press the button of

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this dangerous weapon when he thinks that his rule and his dynasty is

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threatened to collapse. He would destroy Los Angeles, even though the

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retaliation would kill him? Yes, because he knew that if... He lose

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the power, then it is his last day. So he may do anything... To attack

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Los Angeles, because once the people know that in any way he will be

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killed, then you can do anything. That is the human beings' normal

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reaction. How do you assess Kim Jong-un? He is sometimes painted

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outside as a buffoon, as not very bright, and sometimes as well as

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being very devious. How do you assess him? You know, North Korean

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society can only be held in place by idolising or raising the leader as a

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god. So we have to remove the image and the process of idealisation of

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Kim Jong-un insight North Korean society. He rules by fear, clearly.

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But also I watched three girls in Pyongyang. They didn't know they

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were being watched by me. They went up to a statue of his father and

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grandfather and they came away with moist eyes. So there's more than the

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going isn't there? Explained this complexity.

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the children, from the age of three, are brainwashed to bow in front of

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the statue of the Kim family, and then when they have lunch or dinner

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in kindergarten, they were taught to thank, for the meal. So North Korean

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people are growing up in this kind of, you know, idolising process. So

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I think the tears which you have seen during your stay in Pyonyang

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may be, might be, the true feeling. But the majority of the ruling class

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in North Korea, high officials or elites, they now learnt that this

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kind of a red entry system has nothing to do with the true

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communism -- hereditary. The Kim family only built North Korea for

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the Kim family's prosperity alone. And now that people, most of the

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people, and especially the elite group, learned that the current

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system is nothing but only serves the Kim family alone. That is the

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point. So I am sure that one day those elites will turn their back on

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Kim Jong-un, and they will also rise up, together with a popular

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uprising, yes. In this country, in South Korea, there is sometimes talk

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of decapitation. In effect, assassinating Kim Jong-un, if that

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were possible. What do you think of that? I think that is unlikely.

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Because, you know, even North Korean people do not know the whereabouts

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of Kim Jong-un. Myself, I've never seen car, even, in Pyonyang city.

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Even the high officials in North Korea do not know where is his

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office, where is his house, no. He is a kind of leader in the air.

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Whenever he visits some places, or whenever he holds some meetings, it

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is already, you know, preset. The process, and even myself, and even

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the high officials don't know where he is. Let me talk about how North

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Korean diplomats work. What were the kinds of things that you would do to

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raise money, or just to please the regime? I'm thinking you escorted

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Kim Jong-un's rather to an Eric Clapton concert. Tell me about that,

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what happened? Kim Jong-un's brother is a really good musician, at my

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impression. He plays guitar very well, and he actually... Actually he

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has met Eric Clapton, you know. He watched Eric Clapton's performance

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twice in London, and whenever he was at that, you know, in the Albert

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Hall to watch Eric Clapton, I can see the tears, even, in his eyes.

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And he is only interested in music, nothing else. I took a good many

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places, like Parliament Square, you know, Trafalgar Square, and all the

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nice, you know, top ten sites and places. But he never asked even a

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single question, you know, about these other places, or even the

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history, about Britain. He is not interested at all. So I kept on

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telling him this and that, you know, and I soon learnt that he is not

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interested in those, you know, sightseeing, or history, or

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important people. He is only interested in music. Eric Clapton.

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Eric Lupton. Did you do anything that you are ashamed of, and did you

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do anything criminal? Did you break the law, British law -- Clapton. As

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a diplomat of the DPRK? No. I didn't break any law. Not one to do with

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making money for the regime, or raising money for the regime?

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Because there are all kinds of stories that DPRK diplomats have to

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engage in crime to raise money for Pyonyang. Yes, but not all

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countries, you know, allow that kind of thing. For instance, the North

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Korean diplomats in Europe, you know, especially like Britain and

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France where there is a really high level of securities, you know, and

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also with the intelligence services, it is really dangerous for not only

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North Korean diplomats, or even the other foreign diplomats as well, to

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do this kind of illicit activities. In terms of law, we didn't pay, for

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instance, the condition charges, you know, the parking fees, North Korean

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members in London. So far I think the outstanding parking

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accommodation and parking fines are around, to my memory, so around

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?100,000. What do you miss about Britain? Your life in Britain seemed

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to me to be very English and lots of ways. You played tennis in a rather

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nice suburban tennis club. What do you miss about your life that? I

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really miss that kind of, you know, life, you know, especially in

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dealing. And even now I am really sorry for not saying goodbye to my

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tennis club -- Ealing. You know, the members, because they are really

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nice, and you know, gentle. And so, if possible, I want to say, you

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know, the official goodbye to my old tennis club members. We have been

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the member of this club for eight years. My youngest son even joined

:21:51.:21:56.

this club when he was at the age of eight, you know. And we had a

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really, really wonderful coach that, you know? He was an old man and he

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thought all members of my family had to play tennis. Me, my kids, my

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wife. You know, so the whole tennis club members were just one family

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members. And we had... Really still miss English, the spring, the

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autumn, where you have this wonderful tennis. So now I really

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want to say goodbye and thank you to all my club members. Finally, how do

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you think Kim Jong-un will end his days? Is he going to die peacefully

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in his own bed? No. Or how? I'm sure that Kim Jong-un regime will one day

:22:54.:23:02.

collapse by people's uprising. Thank you very much. Thank

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In August 2016, Thae Yong-ho became one of the highest-ranking officials ever to defect from North Korea. He had been a diplomat for Pyongyang in London. The BBC's Korea correspondent Stephen Evans met him several times then, and in January 2017 conducted a wide-ranging interview with him in Seoul.