October 21, 2015 10:23
Twenty North Korean officials have defected to South Korea so far this year, the National Intelligence Service told a National Assembly audit Tuesday.
They were mostly diplomats but also include a high-ranking officer from the powerful Army politburo.
NIS chief Lee Byung-ho told lawmakers the number of North Korean officials defecting from overseas is steadily increasing. Lee added that all 20 who defected this year now live in South Korea.
Although they rank lower than the late Hwang Jang-yop, a senior Workers Party secretary, some are from the elite class, Lee said.
A North Korea source said the Army politburo member defected in April, when he was sent to Beijing for a trading company operated by the politburo.
The Army politburo is in charge of monitoring the activities of all North Korean soldiers and is considered a central part of leader Kim Jong-un regime. Its leader, Hwang Pyong-so, is the second-most powerful man in the state.
Early this year, a mid-level diplomat based at the Hong Kong office of Room 39, the Workers Party office that handles Kim's slush funds, defected with his family.
President Park Geun-hye said in an interview with the Washington Post in June that several high-ranking North Korean officials were defecting to the South.
North Korea send only the most trusted officials abroad, and most are Workers Party officials or senior military officers posing as North Korean embassy staff or business representatives.
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