02:28 GMT +307 December 2019
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    In this Friday, Sept. 12, 2014 photo, a pin of late North Korea leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and North Korea's flag are displayed on a North Korean reporter's jacket at the Main Media Center for the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea

    Italian Foreign Ministry Unaware of N Korean Envoy Seeking Asylum – Report

    © AFP 2019 / Lee Jin-man
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    Earlier in the day, South Korean daily newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that Jo Song-gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Italy, has reportedly applied for asylum in Europe.

    "He sought asylum early last month," JoongAng Ilbo quoted its source as saying, without disclosing the reason for his application.

    The report says Italian authorities were "agonising" over what to do about the defector, but added that they "protected him in a safe place" anyway.

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy knows nothing about Jo Son-il is seeking an asylum in the country a diplomatic source told Reuters.

    READ MORE: North Korean Soldier Defects to South Across DMZ — Seoul

    According to the JoongAng Ilbo report, Jo defected with his entire family, which is a rarity, since North Korean diplomats are usually instructed to leave their families home, in order to prevent such incidents.

    The daily speculates that the ambassador is from the family of a high-ranking official and therefore enjoys certain privileges.

    Jo is "known to be a son or son-in-law of one of the highest-level officials in the North's regime", JoongAng Ilbo cites an unnamed North Korea expert as saying.

    When Jo came to Rome in 2015, after his predecessor, Mun Jong Nam, had been expelled by Italian authorities in response to North Korea's nuclear tests, he brought his wife and children.

    Jo Song-gil is the latest North Korean diplomat to defect to a European country; he follows Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang's former ambassador to London, who similarly applied for asylum in 2016, citing his wish to give his children a better future. Following his defection, Thae moved to South Korea; Seoul took him and his family under protection.

    Tags:
    Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), media reports, defector, political asylum, diplomat, Italy
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