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

North Korea cheerleader flag

Jorge Silva/Reuters

  • 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 realizing 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.
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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.Advertisement

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 Korea

Wong Maye-E (Associated Press)

North Koreans rest by the Pothong river, North Korea, in July 2017.

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.Advertisement

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 realizing the achievement of the reunification of the nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Un."


north korea kim dynasty

AP; Getty; KCNA via Reuters

North Korean leaders past and present: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and 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.

Read more: Photos over 70 years show how North Korea's Kim family went from starving guerilla fighters to going toe-to-toe with TrumpAdvertisement

north south korea border

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

South Korean soldiers guard the border village of Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in July 2017.

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."Advertisement

"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.Advertisement

North Korea


Portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in August 2017.

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.Advertisement

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.Advertisement

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