The Korea Herald reports that a North Korean nuclear scientist has killed himself following a failed attempt to defect to China. As a lead researcher at the physics center of the State Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang, the defector has been named as 50-something Hyun Cheol-huh, although as the Telegraph notes, it is unconfirmed if this is his real name or not.
A source in North Hamgyong province, North Korea told Radio Free Asia the man was detained on Nov. 17 and moved to a solitary confinement cell at the state security department in Sinŭiju. "He died before he could be questioned about the reasons for his escape, who had helped him and what his route had been," the source said. He also added that the scientist had recently taken leave from his job "because he was showing signs of anxiety over his research projects."
"Suddenly, he visited relatives near the border without letting his family know and without crying valid documents for travel," the source added. "When he learned that the authorities were looking for him, he simply disappeared." In his cell at Sinŭiju he consumed poison before he could face questioning. It's been speculated that he was trying to join up with defectors in China before he was apprehended.
With North Korea's northern border crossing into China, it remains the most common escape route for those looking to defect. The border has recently seen an increase in security, with threats of firing squads to those brave enough to flee the hermit nation. Chinese officials often work with North Korean intelligence to stop anyone trying, deporting them before they can successfully integrate in either China or, more commonly, South Korea.
Earlier this year, the North Korean defector Taewon Lee pleaded with Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump to save his wife and young son, who were caught trying to join him in South Korea earlier this year, according to the BBC. Kenneth Bae, who spent 735 days in a North Korean detention camp before returning to the United States, making him the longest-held U.S. prisoner, described the ordeal as harrowing, back-breaking work in a CNN interview. Another detainee, Otto Warmbier, died earlier this year when he returned to the U.S. According to CNN, Warmbier's family stated that when he came back he "suffered extensive brain damage" and "could not speak or move voluntarily."