South Korea Tells North Korean Defectors To Lie Low During The Olympics

Michelle Cho, Jan. 24, 2018, 10:21 a.m.


The government has told prominent North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho and others to refrain from criticizing the North during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang lest they spoil the mood. Seoul will also tone down celebrations of the delivery of new fighter jets from the U.S.

The government is desperate to keep up a festive mood of rapprochement with the oppressive regime and has quailed at cheerfully abusive reporting about the North by the popular press here. Yet North Korea plans a massive military parade in Pyongyang just a day before the Olympics start, suggesting that the appeasement is all one way.

Defectors said South Korean security officials have approached Thae, the former No. 2 man in the North Korean Embassy in London, and other relatively senior defectors to refrain from talking to the media and appearing in public during the Olympics.

One source said, "The request was ostensibly made out of concern for their safety, but it sounded like a warning not to pour cold water on the event."

According to a military source, the government also canceled plans for a congratulatory message marking the handover of the next-generation F-35A fighter jet in Texas in late March.

The government is walking on eggshells. On Saturday, a government official criticized the South Korean media for "excessive and speculative reporting" that upset North Korea.

The puritanical regime was apparently miffed that the press here described bandleader-cum-apparatchik Hyon Song-wol as leader Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend and delayed her visit to the South by one day.

Once she was here, hundreds of police were mobilized to protect her as she inspected potential concert venues for her Samjiyon Orchestra, and officials upbraided reporters for pelting her with questions.

In other signs that the government is bending over backwards to please the North, it was South Korea, in high-level talks with North Korea, that suggested holding a cultural event on Mt. Kumgang on the eve of the Olympics as well as using Maskiryong Ski Report.

Package tours to the Mt. Kumgang resort, which was built entirely with South Korean money, were canceled in 2014 after a soldier there shot dead a South Korean tourist, but it has also served as the venue for reunions of families separated by the Korean War.

A former diplomat warned, "Mt. Kumgang used to be North Korea's ATM, and the ski resort is a prestige project for Kim Jong-un. Using them both could violate UN Security Council resolutions" if money changes hands.

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