Co Tyrone diplomat Colin Crooks ‘was last Briton in North Korea’

A Northern Ireland diplomat believed by the Foreign Office to be the last Briton to set foot in North Korea has revealed his fears of becoming stranded in the secretive state.

Monday, 31st May 2021, 6:10 am
Colin Crooks, from Dungannon, in some of North Korea’s rugged landscape during his time there

Co Tyrone-born Colin Crooks served in Pyongyang since being appointed the UK’s Ambassador in December 2018.

The 52-year-old official left at the end of May last year after being trapped in the country when its leader Kim Jong-un imposed a strict Covid-19 lockdown.

The hermit nation’s borders with China and Russia have remained shut to outsiders ever since international diplomats were granted permission to leave – with no supplies or even mail allowed in.

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Colin Crooks in Pyongyang during his spell there as British ambassador

Mr Crooks – currently operating from London – said: “I believe I was the last British national to set foot in North Korea.

“The one indelible memory that I will have, is the experience we had of being locked down from January 2020 until we eventually took the decision to close the embassy temporarily.

“North Korea is a fairly tough and intense place to work at the best of times. We normally spent six or eight weeks there at a time, so having spent six months there, people felt we’d done enough and sadly we had to get out.

“The concern for our welfare was that if we’d stayed, we could have been stuck indefinitely.

“We spent our last couple of weeks in North Korea basically decommissioning everything in the embassy that we couldn’t carry with us.”

Korean speaker Colin, from Dungannon, is maintaining diplomatic relations with North Korea.

He said: “We really hope North Korea will facilitate access for international humanitarian organisations as soon as possible.

“North Korea could enjoy a bright future if they stop their nuclear activities and engage meaningfully with the international community. The UK stands ready to support should they agree to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions.

“They may think they can keep nuclear weapons and have prosperity at the same time, but they can’t. They have to make a choice.”

‘Our Story In The Making’ is a programme of events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary – and Colin hopes his homeland can inspire North Korea to find peace.

He said: “The Northern Ireland marking its centenary this year is very different to the one I grew up in where there was a lot of conflict going on around me – a lot of rage and anger.”

He added: “It offers hope that North Korea can one day embrace a better future.”

For more information on Northern Ireland’s centenary go to ourstoryinthemaking.com