A senior North Korean military officer who oversaw spying operations has defected, say South Korean officials.
The officer has not been named, but the defence ministry in Seoul said he was a senior colonel in the Reconnaissance General Bureau and left last year.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a source as saying the colonel was seen as an elite among other defectors.
More than 28,000 people have fled North Korea since the end of the Korean War, but high level defections are rare.
Last week, 13 North Koreans w
ho had been working in one of the North’s restaurants abroad defected as a group.
Some more senior figures have also fled while working overseas.
Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said the South could not release further information on the colonel.
One unnamed official told Yonhap the man was the highest-level military official ever to have defected.
“He is believed to have stated details about the bureau’s operations against South Korea to the authorities here,” said the official.
The Reconnaissance General Bureau handles intelligence gathering and spying operations, as well as cyber warfare, said Yonhap.
The BBC’s Stephen Evans in Seoul said such a figure would likely have valuable information about the workings of Kim Jong-un’s government.