Intelligence officer flees to South

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Intelligence officer flees to South

A senior North Korean military officer who worked in intelligence defected to South Korea last year, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Unification disclosed on Monday, a rare high-level defection.

Spokesmen at both the Defense Ministry and Unification Ministry confirmed an earlier report by Yonhap News Agency that a senior colonel working at the North Korean military’s General Reconnaissance Bureau defected last year.

Both ministries declined to give personal information about the colonel or his motive for defecting.

“The North Korean colonel is the highest military official who has fled to South Korea, and he is believed to have provided details about the bureau’s operations against South Korea to authorities here,” Yonhap News Agency quoted a military source as saying.

Until recently, the North’s military intelligence agency was led by the hawkish Gen. Kim Yong-chol, who is believed to have masterminded the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship and 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. He now works as the Workers’ Party secretary overseeing inter-Korean affairs, succeeding Kim Yang-gon, who died last December.

The report said that although the total number of North Korean defectors has dwindled since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011 and strengthened control over borders with China, the number of people seeking political asylum from North Korea’s elite has increased.

While the colonel is the highest-level defector from the North’s military, Hwang Jang-yop, the architect of North Korea’s Juche ideology and former ruling Workers’ Party secretary, is the highest-ranking official to defect to the South. He took asylum in the South in 1997 and died in 2010.

As of March 2016, 29,137 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to Unification Ministry data. The annual number of defectors almost halved last year to 1,276, compared to its peak in 2008 when 2,803 defectors came to the South.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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