SEOUL: Seoul said Monday a North Korean two-star general had defected to the South last year in a rare move by a such high-level military official.
The army senior general had handled spy operations targeting South Korea at the North’s General Bureau of Reconnaissance before arriving in Seoul, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
Unification and defense ministry spokesmen in Seoul confirmed the report but declined to elaborate on details including the official’s name.
“He is the highest-level military official to have ever defected to the South,” said a Seoul government official quoted by Yonhap.
“He is believed to have stated details about the bureau’s operations against South Korea to the authorities here,” said the unnamed official.
The news came days after Seoul announced that a group of 13 North Koreans working in a state-run restaurant outside the country had defected to the South in a rare mass defection.
The defectors – one male manager and a dozen women – arrived in the South Thursday. They had reportedly been working at a restaurant in China’s southeastern port city of Ningbo before coming to the South through a third country in Southeast Asia.
The defections come at a time of elevated military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula.
North Korea has condemned Seoul and Washington for spearheading a sanctions drive at the UN over its nuclear and missile programs, while also lashing out at annual, large-scale military war games that South Korea and the US kicked off last month.
Nearly 30,000 North Koreans have fled poverty and repression in the isolated North, despite risk of imprisonment and torture when caught, and settled in the South.
But the number of defectors – who once numbered more than 2,000 a year – has nearly halved since leader Kim Jong-Un took power after the death of his father and longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il in Dec. 2011.
People who still manage to flee in recent years already have families who settled in the South or are relatively well-off and well-connected elites in search of better lives, according to experts and activists helping North Korean defectors.