A senior intelligence officer with the North Korean military has defected to South Korea, South Korean officials said on Monday.
The defector was a senior colonel with the North Korean Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is in charge of espionage operations against South Korea, according to South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun and Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee.
Speaking in separate press conferences, the ministry spokesmen confirmed that reports on the defection by South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency were accurate, but said they could give no further details.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a source as saying the colonel was seen as elite by other defectors.
North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau is a powerful body, responsible for handling clandestine operations, including espionage against foreign countries and cyber-warfare operations.
Last week, 13 North Korean nationals who had been working at a Pyongyang-owned restaurant in an unnamed Asian nation defected to South Korea, officials in Seoul announced.
They said they had defected after “feeling pressure from North Korean authorities” to send foreign currency back to their homeland, officials said.
Dozens of senior level officials are thought to have defected in the past few years.
The most high-profile defection to date was Hwang Jang-yop, a politician who was considered the architect of North Korea’s policy of “juche”, or self-reliance.
He claimed asylum at the South Korean embassy in Beijing while on a work visit in 1977. He died in 2010.
About 29,000 people have defected in total since the 1950s, though numbers have fallen in recent years.
North Koreans who make it to the South enter into a rehabilitation programme and are given aid packages to help them start a new life.
Despite this, many find it hard to adjust.
High-level defectors are questioned closely for valuable information, and to ensure they are not acting as double agents.
More than 28,000 people have fled North Korea since the end of the Korean War, but high level defections are rare.