A colonel from North Korea’s military spy agency fled to South Korea last year in an unusual case of a senior-level defection, Seoul officials said Monday.
Defections are a bitter source of contention between the rival Koreas, and Seoul doesn’t always make the high-profile cases public. The colonel who defected worked for the North Korean military’s General Reconnaissance Bureau before fleeing to South Korea, according to Seoul’s Defense and Unification ministries. Both ministries refused to provide further details, including a motive for the defection.
The Unification Ministry said that a North Korean diplomat based in Africa separately defected to South Korea last year. It didn’t elaborate.
There have been occasional reports of lower-level North Korean soldiers defecting, but it is unusual for a colonel to flee to South Korea. Some South Korean media outlets said the colonel was the highest-ranking North Korean military officer to ever defect to the South.
The highest-level North Korean to take asylum in South Korea is Hwang Jang-yop, a senior ruling Workers’ Party official who once tutored Kim’s late dictator father, Kim Jong Il. Hwang’s 1997 defection was hailed by many South Koreans as an intelligence bonanza and a clear sign that the North’s political system was inferior to the South’s. Hwang died in 2010.
More than 29,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korean government records.