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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Korean Defector Leaves China

MANILA, Philippines -- In an operation shrouded in secrecy, the highest-ranking official to flee North Korea flew into the Philippines on Tuesday to seek temporary haven, military officials said.


The officials said Hwang Jang-yop, Pyongyang's top ideologue, who had been marooned in South Korea's Beijing mission for nearly five weeks after seeking asylum Feb. 12, arrived at the former U.S. Clark airbase near Manila.


He then boarded a military helicopter bound for Baguio, 200 kilometers north of Manila, said the senior officers, who asked not to be identified.


The cloak-and-dagger nature of his flight, which could have come out of the pages of a Cold War spy novel, lingered for hours after his reported arrival in the Philippines.


There was no official confirmation that Hwang, accompanied by at least three other people, had arrived in Baguio. An official of the South Korean Embassy said the embassy had no information.


Philippine President Fidel Ramos also said he had no information on the matter. He added that he was asking the foreign affairs department to verify the report.


"No, I have not received a report to that effect," Ramos told reporters when asked about Hwang. "In any case I will verify that, and later on whatever be the result, we will have the department of foreign affairs issue a statement."


Foreign Undersecretary Rodolfo Severino, who canceled a news briefing, said: "I am waiting for orders."


The Chinese and South Korean governments both confirmed that Hwang had left China but refused to say where he was taken.


"What I can tell you is that through consultations among all sides, the problem has already basically been solved," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Cui Tiankai told a news briefing in Beijing.


The official Xinhua news agency said Hwang had left China of his own free will after sheltering in Seoul's mission and had gone to an unspecified third country.


"China, proceeding from safeguarding the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, according to Hwang's own will and considering the positions taken by the parties concerned, has sent Hwang out of China's territory for a third country," Xinhua said.


Unmarked vehicles were used Monday night to slip Hwang past reporters waiting outside the tight police cordon around Seoul's consular compound in Beijing's tree-lined diplomatic quarter, Japan's Fuji Television reported.


Hwang spent the night at the military airport on the outskirts of Beijing before being flown out of the Chinese capital to the southeastern Chinese port of Xiamen. There he boarded a chartered Air China plane to Clark.


A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Seoul said Hwang was now "in a secure and safe place" with the cooperation of "a third country." Without elaborating, the official added: "He's under our control."


North Korea at first accused Seoul of kidnapping the scholarly Hwang and sent scores of diplomats and students to keep vigil around Seoul's Beijing mission. But the Stalinist nation later appeared to ease its stance on the crisis.


On Tuesday, Pyongyang was silent about Hwang's movements. "There has been no response from North Korea," said Lee Kyu-hyung, a South Korean spokesman. "Hwang Jang-yop himself wanted to defect, and the arrangements were made after negotiations with China. So I hope no new tensions will develop between South and North Korea."