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High-ranking N.K. military intelligence officer defected to S. Korea last year: source

All Headlines 10:37 April 11, 2016

SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- A ranking North Korean military officer in charge of conducting intelligence operations defected to South Korea last year, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.

A North Korean senior colonel, whose name has been withheld, defected in 2015 after working at the North's reconnaissance bureau tasked with carrying out espionage missions against the South, the source said, who declined to be identified.

"The officer is the most senior ranking military man to have crossed over and can be considered an elite among North Koreans who have defected to the South," the insider said. "He is believed to have stated details about the bureau's operations against South Korea to authorities here."

South Korea's spy agency said last year that since taking power in late 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has had more than 70 senior officials executed in an effort to tighten his grip on the communist regime.

A number of North Korea's working-level officials based in foreign nations have sought asylum apparently to avoid Kim's so-called reign of terror, according to various sources.

The North's Reconnaissance General Bureau deals with intelligence gathering and espionage operations in foreign countries, and is also responsible for cyberwarfare. The bureau is known to be behind Pyongyang's alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014.

Kim Yong-chol, a new party secretary handling inter-Korean affairs, had served as the head of the bureau since 2009.

Last week, a group of 13 North Koreans who used to work at an overseas restaurant en masse defected to South Korea, the first mass defection since 2011. North Korean-run restaurants in foreign nations have served as a source of hard currency for Pyongyang.

The latest case came as the U.N. Security Council and major countries have slapped tougher sanctions on North Korea for its January nuclear test and long-range rocket launch in February.

There are more than 28,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea, with some 1,280 North Koreans entering the South last year, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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