SEOUL Ñ The only son of one of North Korea's top generals has defected with his family and is in the hands of U.S. intelligence officials, according to secret reports from the Japan Defense Agency.
U.S. officials in Seoul are denying any knowledge of the defection.
A Japan Defense Agency operative in the North Korean industrial port of Chongjin reportedly saw Oh Se-Uk, who holds the rank of brigadier general, board a speedboat with a group of Koreans of Japanese ancestry who had earned the trust of North Korean authorities.
According to the report from the Japan Defense Agency, Oh, his wife and other family members were transferred in international waters to another boat that took them to the huge U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, the center of U.S. naval activity in Asia.
The report was corroborated by contacts at Chosen Soren, the organization controlled by North Korea that represents Koreans living in Japan.
Analysts here view the younger Oh's defection as a sign of the gradual weakening of Kim Jong-Il's regime. Sons and other relatives of Kim Jong-Il have been engaged in a power struggle in which relatives have reportedly been purged.
Korean sources say Oh, 43, was spirited out of North Korea at the end of last year. It was not clear, however, if he remained at Yokosuka, was installed in a CIA "safe house" in Japan or was sent to the United States.
Japanese sources say Oh may have been sent the U.S. for interrogation by CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials. Japanese officials, however, have been hunting for Oh near Yokohama amid reports that he may be living in a safe house run by the CIA's Unit 500.
"The Japanese police now are looking for everything," said a source with close ties to the North Koreans. "The Americans are not cooperating. They are silent about him."
Both the State Department and the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Chris Hill, have denied any knowledge of Oh's defection.