A senior North Korean intelligence official sought political asylum here Sunday in what local reports called the highest-ranking defection to the South since the end of the Korean War.

The Foreign Ministry said Kim Jeong Min, 45, arrived in Seoul Sunday after his defection in a South Korean embassy in Europe. The ministry would not say exactly where or when he defected.Kim, who had been carrying a North Korean diplomatic passport, sought political asylum while he was traveling in "a certain European country on official business," it said.

Kim had been a senior official in North Korea's Ministry of Public Security, a powerful intelligence organization, the ministry said without elaborating.

Local press reports said Kim would be the highest-ranking North Korean government offical to defect to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The Korean news agency Yonhap said Kim arrived in Seoul on a Korean Air flight from Bangkok, Thailand, early Sunday, but details of his flight were not released.

Kim ignored a flurry of questions by reporters as South Korean officials escorted him through the airport into a car. Officials said he would be detained for questioning.

South Korean authorities "will conduct through investigations into the backgound, true motive and other circumstances surrounding Mr. Kim's defection and will make an official announcement on the result of the investigation in due course," a ministry statement said.