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The announcement follows unconfirmed reports that Pyongyang's top diplomat in Italy had sought asylum from an unidentified Western country. Jo Song-gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Rome, is the son and son-in-law of high-ranking North Korean officials. The last senior diplomat to defect was the deputy ambassador in London.
Speaking after a briefing from the spy agency on Thursday, Kim Min-ki, a government MP, told reporters that Mr Jo fled the Rome embassy more than a month ago. "Acting ambassador Jo Song-gil's term was ending in late November last year and he escaped the diplomatic compound in early November," the MP said.