SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A high-profile North Korean defector told South Korean lawmakers on Monday that he fled because of disillusionment with what he describes as a "tyrannical reign of terror" by leader Kim Jong Un, according to one of the lawmakers who attended their private meeting.
Seoul announced in August that Thae Yong Ho, No. 2 at the North's embassy in London, had come to South Korea with his family because of his disgust with North Korea. Pyongyang later called him "human scum" who embezzled official funds and committed other crimes.
Thae, who has been under the protection of the National Intelligence Service, met with South Korean lawmakers on Monday together with NIS officers, according to Lee Cheol Woo, one of the lawmakers. The NIS, South Korea's main spy agency, said it couldn't confirm the meeting.
Lee's office cited Thae as denying the North Korean accusations and saying he decided to defect after realizing the North's "horrific" reality. He was quoted as saying he learned about South Korean democracy by watching South Korean dramas and movies.
He told lawmakers that North Koreans are suffering "slavery" under Kim's dictatorship and that higher-level officials are subject to more intense state surveillance. Thae, who is to be released into South Korean society on Friday, said he'll try to publicly raise the North's situation, Lee's office said.
South Korean media said that Thae will be under a police protection program after his release into society.
Thae is the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea. In 1997, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt fled but resettled in the United States.
Kim, believed to be in his early 30s, took power upon the death of his dictator father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. He's since orchestrated a series of high-profile executions, purges and dismissals in what outside analysts have said was an attempt to bolster his grip on power.
More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the South Korean government. Many defectors have said they wanted to leave North Korea's harsh political system and poverty.