A North Korean intelligence officer has defected to the South, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. This is the highest ranking officer to ever defect.
The colonel was a member of the Reconnaissance General Bureau. The man is believed to be the source of valuable information as he oversaw spying operations, including cyber warfare.
It is rare for the government in Seoul to confirm high ranking defections. The opposition in South Korea is accusing the government of making these revelations ahead of legislative elections on Wednesday for populist reasons.
Since the Korean War approximately 29,000 people have fled to the South since the 1950s, with the most high-profile case being that of Hwang Jang-yop, the architect of North Korea’s policy of self-reliance in 1977. Defectors are said to have halved since Kim Jong-Um came to power in 2011.
Frequently, senior officials, athletes, musicians, and diplomats defect when posted abroad. The borders with China and South Korea are heavily guarded, and any family left behind is likely to be the target of government retribution.
The South welcomes defectors with a special rehabilitation program and an aid package to help them start a new life.