South Korean spy agency: North Korean diplomat has gone into hiding

South Korea's National Intelligence Service said Thursday that North Korea's acting ambassador to Italy went into hiding in November, raising questions about a possible high-profile defection as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeks recognition on the world stage.

The Associated Press reported that a South Korean official told lawmakers that Jo Song Gil went into hiding with his wife a short time before his term as ambassador was set to end in late November.

The South Korean intelligence official provided few other details on Jo's case during a closed-door briefing with lawmakers, the AP reported. The intelligence official did not say whether the agency knew of Jo's whereabouts or potential plans to seek asylum.


South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-ki said South Korea's intelligence agency had not been contacted by Jo, the AP reported.

North Korea has not commented thus far on Jo’s case.

The AP reported that roughly 30,000 people in North Korea have defected to South Korea since the end of the Korea War more than 60 years ago, including several high-ranking officials.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un is accused of numerous human rights abuses, including starving his own people and having family members killed.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE reiterated Wednesday that he hopes to meet with Kim for a second time in the coming year as the two nations negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The president has garnered criticism for his glowing praise of Kim as a "talented" leader who "loves his people."

Kim said in a New Year's address that North Korea would seek a "new path" if the U.S. continued to implement sanctions during denuclearization talks.