A senior intelligence official escaped to South Korea last year in an unusual senior-level desertion, said Seoul officials on April 11.
The announcement comes three days after it was revealed that 13 North Korean state-run restaurant co-workers in the Chinese city Ningbo had defected to South Korea. The employees are the largest group of defections since North Korea’s Kim Jong-un took over as leader after his father in 2011.
This time around, the senior official who defected from North Korea was a colonel from the country’s military spy agency, the General Reconnaissance Bureau, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry and Unification Ministry. The spy agency is in charge of espionage acts against the South. The reason why the colonel left from the rogue nation is unknown.
The North Korean spy agency was believed to be behind two attacks that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
Although reports of lower-level soldiers fleeing from North Korea is not uncommon, it is rare for a colonel to escape. The highest-level North Korean who defected to South Korea was Hwang Jang-yop, a senior ruling Workers’s Party official who once tutored Kim’s dictator father Kim Jong-il and was close to Kim Il-sung.
Hwang’s escape was seen by South Korea as an intelligence blow to its enemy and as a sign that North Korea’s political system was inferior than the South’s. The senior official died in 2010.
Since the end of the Korean War, almost 30,000 North Koreans have left for South Korea. According to the South’s government records, North Koreans who have fled claimed they wanted to avoid the country’s dictatorial political system and poverty.
Pyongyang usually accuses their neighbor country for luring North Koreans to defect, while Seoul denies the accusation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.