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    Apr 12, 2016

    Spy chief among two North Korean officials who defect to South Korea


    A NORTH Korean colonel in charge of spy operations against South Korea had defected to Seoul late last year, media in the South, which had also uncovered the earlier defection of a diplomat, reported yesterday.

    The South's government confirmed yesterday reports on the defection of the colonel who worked at the North's General Bureau of Reconnaissance (RGB), but declined to give details.

    "His rank in North Korea was equivalent to a two-star general in our military hierarchy," the Korea Times quoted a source as saying.

    "He was the highest-ranking military officer ever to defect to the South."

    The colonel is believed to have given details about the operations of his bureau to Seoul.

    Seoul yesterday also confirmed a report by Dong-A Ilbo daily that a North Korean diplomat on a posting in an African country had defected to the South in May last year with his wife and two sons, claiming his life was under threat.

    Both pieces of news came days after Seoul announced that a group of 13 North Koreans working in a state-run restaurant in south-east China's Ningbo city had fled in a mass rare defection to the South via a South-east Asian country.

    Beijing confirmed yesterday the defection, saying their departure was "legitimate" as they carried "valid passports", reported the Korea Herald.

    The group - one male manager and a dozen women - arrived in the South on Thursday.

    An official said the additional sanctions on the North could have prompted the defections, which came after a huge drop in the number of such cases in the four years since leader Kim Jong Un took office.

    Seoul rarely confirms defections by North Koreans, fearing for their safety and to avert diplomatic rows with transit countries, reported Agence France-Presse.

    The highly unusual disclosures prompted Seoul's opposition parties to accuse the government of trying to rally support among conservatives before tomorrow's parliamentary election.

    The vote for the 300-seat assembly is seen as a referendum on the policies of President Park Geun Hye and her ruling conservative Saenuri Party.

    The government has denied political motives, saying the disclosures were made in the interest of the public.

    The RGB was led by Kim Yong Chol, a hardline military commander - believed to have masterminded the deadly sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010 - before he was transferred this year to be director of the United Front Department and a secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party in charge of cross-border affairs.

    The bureau reports directly to leader Kim, according to sources.