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HIGH-RANKING North Korean Official Defects: Shocking Escape to South Korea

Ri, a top North Korean official, defected to South Korea. This makes him the highest-ranking defector since 2016. Ri was an expert on Cuba for North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He worked to block diplomatic ties between South Korea and Cuba.

In 2013, Ri negotiated the release of Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean ship seized by Panama for smuggling missiles and fighter jet parts hidden under brown sugar from Cuba. The ship had also been caught smuggling drugs before.

The seizure led to a five-day standoff with Panamanian marines, even though American and Panamanian officials called the cargo outdated junk. The Cuban regime provided a list of the military cargo after boarding the ship.

The incident caused major stress for the North Korean crew and led to severe consequences for those involved in the arms-for-sugar deal with Cuba. U.N. analysts believe losing the ship was a big blow to North Korea’s food situation and exposed their smuggling methods.

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