North Korean students missing in Paris amid purge of Kim Jong-un’s uncle’s aides
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Spies from North and South Korea are said to be searching for 10 North Korean architecture students who have gone missing in Paris. French police are also looking for them, amid reports that one is the son of an official purged by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
Just over two weeks ago a student identified only by his surname, Han, vanished from the prestigious Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture in northern Paris, where he and several other North Koreans have been studying at France’s invitation.
He and nine other students have not put in an appearance since, according to South Korean TV.
Han is the son of an aide to Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle who was executed last year on treason charges, South Korea’s state news agency, Yonhap, reports.
His father was purged recently in the Pyongyang regime’s ongoing drive to clear Jang’s allies out of the state bureaucracy.
"I asked other students and faculty members about Han's whereabouts but nobody has seen him at least for the past 15 days," a school official told Yonhap.
North Korean agents picked up Han in Paris but he escaped while being taken to the airport and is now in hiding, South Korean media claim.
French police visited the college to inquire about Han’s whereabouts on 14 November, deputy head Caroline Lecourtois told South Korea’s SBS TV.
"Where are Han and his comrades from Kim il-Sung University?" asks RFI's Stéphane Lagarde in his blog Encres de Chine. "Are they with friends, in the hands of the North Korean secret police or, on the contrary, those of South Korean diplomats or in the care of the French agencies?"
Like most Western powers, Paris does not have official diplomatic links with Pyongyang, which has a delegation in the French capital to pursue limited economic and cultural ties.
Last December North Korea recalled Hong Yong, its deputy delegate to the UN’s cultural arm, Unesco, whose headquarters is in Paris, amid reports that he was close to Jang.