Teen Daughter of Defecting North Korean Ambassador Sent Back Home

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated with news of the communique from Pyongyang.

The 17-year-old daughter of Jo Song Gil, North Korea’s former acting ambassador to Italy who disappeared in November, was forcibly repatriated to North Korea, South Korean media reports. The girl, who was a high-school student in Rome, was snatched before she could join her parents, Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday, quoting Thae Yong Ho, the former No. 2 at North Korea’s London embassy who defected in 2016. Italian media reported the teen had been staying in a secure location before her parents disappeared in what is assumed to be a high-level defection. She was apparently taken by secret North Korean agents operating in Italy before she could join her parents. “I don’t know how many children Jo had, but the one who was in Italy was taken back to North Korea,” Thae said. “Jo is currently with his wife.” Jo arrived in Rome in 2015 and was acting ambassador after Mun Jong Nam was expelled from Italy in October 2017, following North Korean nuclear tests. Jo has not been heard from since November and Italy’s foreign minister will not confirm whether he has applied for asylum in Italy.

Later Wednesday, Italy’s foreign minister said a December communique from Pyongyang stated the teen “requested to return to her country to her grandparents” and traveled there with embassy personnel on Nov. 14—four days after her parents vanished after leaving the diplomatic compound.