North Korea defectors fear for their lives after Kim Jong Nam assassination

A hazmat team conducts checks inside Kuala Lumpur Internatinal Airport at Sepang, Malaysia, on Sunday. North Korean defectors who have spoken out against the Kim Jong Un regime fear risks, according to a prominent defector. Photo by Fazry Ismail/EPA

Feb. 28 (UPI) — North Korea defectors in the South are being warned against traveling overseas after the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of ruler Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam, who was 45, may have been killed on the orders of the North Korean leadership, and many defectors believe they might be next.

That’s according to Ahn Chan-il, a North Korea defector and president of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, who fled the regime in 1979 – and became the first North Korea refugee to earn a doctorate in the South.

Ahn was speaking at a Korea unification-themed panel at the annual Global Peace Foundation conference in Manila, where he was addressing the concerns of the defector community and highlighting important issues that pertain to potential unification.

Kang Chol-hwan, another prominent defector-activist who grew up in a North Korea prison camp and later wrote a memoir of his experiences, was originally scheduled to speak at the conference in the Philippines.

But in the wake of the deadly chemical attack against Kim Jong Nam in nearby Malaysia, The Aquariums of Pyongyang author was advised to stay in Seoul, Ahn said.

Ahn, however, said he decided to brave the trip.

“I was told not to go abroad,” Ahn said. “But I came anyways although I have not been reduced in rank on [North Korea’s] ‘assassination list.'”

The statement was quickly met with laughter from the audience.

Ahn continued to speak in jest, adding he was “demoted to fifth on the assassination list” after the dramatic defection of North Korea diplomat Thae Yong-ho in 2016.

Thae, who fled Pyongyang’s embassy in London, has provided numerous interviews to journalists about the regime and its vulnerabilities.

But Ahn said Kim Jong Un may still be keeping an eye on him, especially after news stories began to circulate he was creating a North Korea government-in-exile.

“Before then [April 2016], I was trailing at No. 8” on list, the defector said.

Ahn, with his unique insight into both North and South Korea, said while he lauds South Korea’s democracy, he has not taken part in South Korea’s civic protests.

Protesters have now divided into two camps: those who want President Park Geun-hye impeached, and a more conservative faction that wants her restored to power.

Ahn said the protests “prolong national division,” and urged the audience to instead take more interest in Korean unification.

The defector added more North Koreans are resettling in the South and now number more than 30,000.

“That’s the size of a typical North Korea county,” Ahn said.

The Global Peace Foundation is affiliated with the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.


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