- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2016

South Korea said Monday that two senior officials from North Korea defected during 2015, including an army colonel described by Seoul as the highest-level military official ever to abandon Pyongyang.

The colonel, a former member of North Korea’s General Reconnaissance Bureau, defected last year and has since been granted political asylum, South Korea’s Defense Ministry acknowledged.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said separately that a senior diplomat who had been posted in Africa on behalf of Pyongyang defected last year with his family. The Dong-A Ilbo, a daily South Korean newspaper, reported that the diplomat is in his 50s and had fled the North with his wife and two sons due to “life-threatening” concerns.

The army colonel is believed to be the most senior-level North Korean military official known to have defected to Seoul, and he has already revealed secrets regarding the espionage activities of his former agency, according to Yonhap, South Korea’s largest news agency.

Officials in Seoul have previously blamed the General Reconnaissance Bureau for coordinating attacks in 2010 that claimed the lives of 50 South Koreans, and the spy agency has also been suspected of waging the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014.

Although defections from North Korea are not uncommon, reports rarely surface regarding high-level officials who have fled Pyongyang. Last week, South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced that 13 employees of a North Korea-run restaurant in eastern China had defected to Seoul — the largest group defection since North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un inherited control in 2011 from his father, Kim Jong-il.

The Minjoo Party, the main liberal opposition group in the south, accused South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye of revealing last week’s mass defection in order to influence voters ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Wednesday when 300 lawmakers will be elected to four-year terms, Reuters reported.

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