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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two More Koreans Seek Refuge in Seoul

SEOUL -- South Korea said Thursday two North Koreans, one a scientist, were seeking political asylum in Seoul from an unidentified Southeast Asian nation, the latest in a string of defections from the isolated communist North.

Last Thursday a North Korean air force captain flew his MiG-19 across the border and growing numbers of elite North Koreans have been fleeing the country, which has been hit by severe food shortages.

Cho Won-il, South Korea's deputy foreign minister, said negotiations were under way with a country in Southeast Asia to take the latest two asylum-seekers. He did not name the country.

"They have not yet arrived in our country. They are safe. We are negotiating with the country," Cho told reporters.

"I can't say any more than that one of them is a scientist," he said, citing security reasons.

But South Korea's state television and other local news media quoted Seoul government officials and diplomats as saying the two North Koreans were Chung Kab-ryol, 44, a scientist at Pyongyang's state research institute, and Chang Hae-song, 52, a drama scriptwriter.

The mainstream Dong-A Ilbo daily, in its Friday morning edition, quoted an official at South Korea's consulate general in Hong Kong as saying Chung and Chang have been staying in the British colony and would arrive in Seoul on Friday "at the earliest."

Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda told Tokyo's lower house of parliament Thursday the scientist seeking asylum in Seoul had visited Japan's embassy in Beijing on May 7.

"I am a North Korean scientist. I want to seek asylum in South Korea," Ikeda quoted the North Korean man as telling embassy officials. "He left for a third country outside of Japan, China and South Korea and he is now in a condition that poses no concerns for his safety."

The South Korean state television and other local media said Chung won a silver medal at an international invention and technology exhibition in Geneva last month but feared punishment if he returned home without a gold medal.

Analysts said the defections showed how disillusioned prominent North Koreans were at the Stalinist state.

"This is only the beginning. Many more of the so-called elite will come," said Kim Chang-soon, head of the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Seoul says there are about 610 defectors living in the South.

Air force captain Li Chol-su said he defected to escape rampant corruption. He also warned that Pyongyang leaders had plans for a blitzkreig-style attack on the South, although Western military analysts see no signs of imminent invasion.

The two Koreas have been technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with an armistice.

Members of the Northern elite who have defected to South Korea this year include Hyun Sung-il, who was serving as a third secretary in the North Korean Embassy in Zambia when he sought refuge in February.

Hyun's wife defected about two weeks before her husband. Around the same time, an instructor of martial arts assigned to the embassy sought asylum.