N. Korea Honcho Defects in 'Coup' for S. Korea: Reports
He's said to be the highest-ranking military official to ever defect to South
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2016 9:07 AM CDT
South Korean soldiers walk by a sign showing the distance to Pyongyang and to Seoul from Imjingang Station near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

(Newser) – On Friday, South Korea announced that 13 North Korean employees from a restaurant in China had defected into its fold, the AP reports. On Monday, the country added a pair of North Korean officials, one of whom is reportedly a spy-savvy army colonel, in what Reuters calls a "coup for Seoul." One of the new entrants, said by South Korea's defense and unification ministries to have entered South Korea last year, is reportedly a senior North Korean diplomat who was stationed in Africa. But it's the second defector, now being granted political asylum, who's of most interest, as he was linked to the North's clandestine General Reconnaissance Bureau and spent much of his time spying on the South. "He is believed to have stated details about the bureau's operations against South Korea to the authorities here," an official told Yonhap via the BBC, adding the colonel was the highest-ranking military defector there ever.

What's odd isn't just the defection of such a high-level official, but also that South Korea is talking about it. Some liberal opposition members say it's a purely political move by the South's conservative president, Park Geun-hye, to nab votes in Wednesday's parliamentary elections. But South Korean officials deny that, saying they spoke up about the defection of the restaurant workers—said by CNN to be 12 women and a man who experienced "pressure from North Korean authorities" to send money home—because there were so many from the same place; the AP notes it's the largest group defection since Kim Jong Un took over in 2011. About 29,000 people have fled the North since the Korean War's 1953 ceasefire, even though the BBC notes it's "almost impossible" for North Koreans to cross the well-guarded borders. (Meanwhile, the North is demanding the South execute some of its own officials.)