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North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy is missing for two months

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Rome, Jan 4: It's two months since North Korea's acting ambassador to Italy has gone missing and it has been reported that he might be under the protection of some western country. Jo Song-gil presented his diplomatic credentials to the Italian government in May 2015.

Jo Song-gil

The 48-year-old acting diplomat who is fluent in a number of languages including Italian, French and English became his country's temporary ambassador to Italy in October 2017 after the latter expelled Ambassador Mun Jong-nam in response to Pyongyang's nuclear test in the preceding month.

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Jo is believed to be from a high-ranking family and has a long history in the ruling Workers Party of Korea. His father is a retired diplomat while his father-in-law also served as North Korea's envoy in Hong Kong and Thailand for many years.

"It is believed that Jo had been permitted to take his wife and children with him to Rome, a privilege that is bestowed only to the most loyal of North Korean government official. Sources in the Italian government were quoted by British media on Thursday saying that Pyongyang had notified Italy's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October that Jo would be replaced in December. On Thursday, however, Kim Min-ki, a South Korean member of parliament, told reporters in Seoul that Jo had been missing since November," a report in Intel News said.

The South Korean politician said that he and a group of other parliamentarians had been briefed by the officials of National Intelligence Service (South Korea's primary external intelligence body) on the matter. He said the diplomat's wife and children were also believed to have disappeared with him and that South Korean officials had no contact with them since they vanished.

South Korean media reports on Thursday, January 3, said Jo and his family "were in a safe place" under the Italian government's protection while the negotiation over the defection was on. However, Italian authorities told BBC that the foreign ministry had "no record of an asylum request made by Jo" or other members of his family, the Intel News report said.

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South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo cited anonymous "diplomatic source" to say that the former ambassador and his wife were negotiating their defection to a western nation along with an offer of political asylum, the Intel News report added. However, the daily did not name the country but said the missing family did not intend to remain in Italy.

In August 2016, Thae Yong-ho, the second in command at the North Korean embassy in London had defected to South Korea with family.

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