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A high-ranking North Korean military intelligence official has defected, according to South Korean Officials. The as yet unnamed officer was a senior colonel in the Reconnaissance General Bureau and fled the Northern dictatorship last year.
The colonel was regarded as “elite” by other defectors, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency. He is the most senior military official to have ever defected, according to one official who spoke to Yonhap on condition of anonymity.
“He is believed to have stated details about the bureau’s operations against South Korea to the authorities here,” said the official.
The Reconnaissance General Bureau is known to be in charge of intelligence collection, cyber warfare, and spying operations.
The defector is likely to have important and useful information on Kim Jong-un’s government and inner circle, according to assessments by the BBC’s Stephen Evans. However, the South Korean government could not release further information about him, according to Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun.
More than 28,000 people have defected to South Korea since the end of the Korean war, though many more have fled to China and Russia. Some estimates claim between 100,000 to 300,000 people have fled North Korea since 1953.
High profile defectors are rare. They are thoroughly questioned for valuable information and closely monitored to ensure they are not double agents.
To date, the most high-profile defector was Hwang Jang-yop, a North Korean politician considered responsible for crafting the North’s policy of “Juche,” the state-ideology of self-reliance.
In 1997, he claimed asylum at South Korea’s embassy in Beijing. Hwang Jang-yop died in 2010.