A senior North Korean spy has defected to South Korea, South Korean officials confirm.
The officer has not been named, but the defense ministry in Seoul said he was a senior colonel in the Reconnaissance General Bureau and left in 2015.
Announcement of defection follows revelation that 13 North Koreans believed to have been working in China had also fled to South Korea. It was the largest group defection since North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, took power in late 2011. South Korean media reported that the restaurant is located in the eastern city of Ningbo.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a source as saying the colonel was seen as an elite among other defectors.
The colonel worked for the North Korean military’s general reconnaissance bureau before defecting, according to Seoul’s defense ministry and unification ministry. Both ministries refused to provide further details including a motive for the defection.
The reconnaissance agency was believed to be behind two deadly attacks blamed on Pyongyang that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
There have been occasional reports of lower-level North Korean soldiers defecting but it is unusual for a colonel to flee to South Korea.
More than 29,000 people have fled North Korea since the end of the Korean War, but high level defections are rare.
Some more senior figures have also fled while working overseas.
Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said South Korea 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 highest-level North Korean who took asylum in South Korea has been Hwang Jang-yop, a senior ruling Workers’ party official who once tutored Kim’s late dictator father, Kim Jong-il. His 1997 defection was hailed as a coup by many South Koreans and a clear sign that North Korea’s political system was inferior to the South’s.
Abulaziz al-Shalal, commander of Syria’s military police, has defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s government and reportedly fled to Turkey.
Lt. Gen. Abulaziz al-Shalal is one of the highest-ranking officials to join the uprising against the Syrian regime.
The army had failed to protect Syrians and turned into “gangs of murder”, the general said in a video statement.
The announcement came amid reports of a deadly government strike in the northern province of Raqqa.
After reportedly crossing the border into Turkey, Gen. Abulaziz al-Shalal released a statement saying he had defected because the military had perpetrated massacres in towns and villages instead of protecting Syrians.
“I declare my defection from the army because of its deviation from its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of murder and destruction,” he said in a video message posted online.
Opposition sources said the commander had been secretly co-operating with the rebels from the outset.
This is believed to be the case with many other senior defectors, our correspondent adds.
But Gen. Abulaziz al-Shalal said defecting was becoming more difficult because of the increased level of surveillance.
“Definitely, there are other high-ranking officers who want to defect but the situation is not suitable for them to declare defection,” he said.
An unnamed Syrian security source confirmed the army chief’s defection but played down its significance, Reuters news agency reports.
Abulaziz al-Shalal, commander of Syria’s military police, has defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s government and reportedly fled to Turkey
Gen. Abulaziz al-Shalal was due to retire soon and joined the uprising to “play hero”, the source is quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, reports of a deadly government strike near a village in the northern province of Raqqa have emerged.
Around 20 people, including eight children, were killed in the shelling, according to the UK-based activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The organization released video footage purportedly of the victims, showing blood-stained bodies laid out on blankets.
The SOHR is one of the most prominent organizations documenting and reporting incidents and casualties in the Syrian conflict. The group says its reports are impartial, though its information cannot be independently verified
Earlier this week, opposition activists said dozens of people had been killed in a government air strike in the rebel-held town of Halfaya in Hama province.
Although rebels have claimed some major territorial gains in recent months, the regime has hit back with massive firepower at the areas it has lost.
In a separate development, rebel fighters said they had seized the north-western town of Harem near the Turkish border.
On Tuesday the UN peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi held talks in Damascus with opposition figures who are tolerated by the regime but not supported by the mainstream opposition, our correspondent says.
Earlier, Lakhdar Brahimi had also met President Bashar al-Assad to discuss “the many steps to be taken in the future” to help end the conflict.
He did not, however, elaborate on what these steps were.
With the government dismissing the uprising as a foreign-backed extremist plot, and the rebels demanding that President Bashar al-Assad leave power immediately, the chances for a peaceful compromise seem slight.
Rebels have been fighting Bashar al-Assad’s government for 21 months. Opposition groups say more than 44,000 people have been killed.
Nawaf al-Fares, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, has defected to the opposition and urged other senior Syrian politicians and members of the military to do the same.
Nawaf al-Fares is the first senior Syrian diplomat to abandon the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s foreign affairs ministry has responded by dismissing him from his post, Sana news agency says.
Meanwhile Western nations are urging the UN to threaten tough sanctions against Syria.
They want a 10-day sanctions ultimatum to be part of a Security Council resolution on the future of the UN’s observer mission in the country. A new resolution must be passed before the mission’s mandate ends on Friday next week.
Nawaf al-Fares’s defection comes just a week after a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Bashar al-Assad also defected.
He confirmed his decision in a statement broadcast on Facebook and al-Jazeera TV.
Nawaf al-Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq, has defected to the opposition
With Syrian revolutionary flags behind him, he read out the statement saying he was resigning both as Syria’s ambassador to Iraq and as a member of the ruling Baath Party.
“I call on all party members to do the same because the regime has transformed it into a tool to oppress the people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity.
“I announce, from this moment on, that I am siding with the people’s revolution in Syria, my natural place in these difficult circumstances which Syria is going through.”
Syria’s foreign ministry said he had made statements that contradicted the duties of his post and no longer had any relation to the Syrian embassy in Baghdad.
Nawaf al-Fares was appointed ambassador to Baghdad in 2008.
He is also chief of a Sunni tribe, the Uqaydat, which straddles Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
That area, around the city of Deir al-Zour, has become a hotbed of support for the rebels and has been heavily bombarded in recent weeks.
Syria has been convulsed by internal conflict since protests against President basher al-Assad began early last year. The protests turned into an armed rebellion and thousands of people have been killed.
Last week, senior army officer Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas fled Syria via Turkey.
He was a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard and as a young man he attended military training with President Bashar al-Assad.
Gen. Manaf Tlas had been under a form of home arrest since May 2011 because he opposed security measures imposed by the regime, sources said.
Meanwhile, Western nations are pressing the UN to threaten Damascus with sanctions as it considers renewing the mandate for its observer mission in Syria which expires on 20 July.
The mission had a 90-day remit to monitor a truce, but fighting has continued largely unabated.
The truce formed part of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has called for “clear consequences” for the Syrian government and rebels if the ceasefire is not observed.
Russia has suggested a 90-day extension. But Western states say a simple rollover of the mission is not enough.
A draft resolution has been circulated threatening Damascus with sanctions within 10 days, if it fails to stop using heavy weapons and pull back its troops from towns and cities.
The UK’s envoy to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, told reporters that Britain, France, the US and Germany would propose making compliance with the ceasefire mandatory under Chapter 7 of the UN charter.
Last week, more than 100 countries called on the Security Council to invoke Article 41 of the Charter, which stops short of military intervention.
Russia has said use of Chapter 7 is a “last resort”. China, which like Russia has vetoed the two previous attempts to impose tougher measures, has said it would support a rollover of the mission.