13 N.Koreans Defect from Restaurant in China

      April 11, 2016 09:10

      Thirteen North Koreans have defected from a restaurant in China to South Korea, officials here said Friday.

      The 12 women and one man were earning hard currency for the North Korean regime in the Chinese city of Ningbo, Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told reporters.

      The ministry published statements from the 13 saying their reasons for fleeing to Seoul included that they had lost faith in the North Korean system after recent tougher international sanctions or were impressed by South Korean democracy.

      North Koreans who defected from a North Korean restaurant in China arrive at a facility in Siheung, Gyeonggi Province on Thursday. /Courtesy of the Ministry of Unification

      The restaurant in Ningbo where they worked opened late last year as a joint venture with a Chinese company and had a total staff of about 18 -- 15 women and three male supervisors.

      A Foreign Ministry official here said the defectors acted under their own steam. They had to hatch an elaborate plan since North Korean overseas workers are tightly supervised by agents of the state.

      Their identities were not published, but an informed source said they probably managed to get out because the manager and supervising agent were in on the plan.

      It is likely that the workers were disgruntled because they failed to meet the increased currency payments demanded by the regime in Pyongyang.

      China appears to have tacitly aided the North Koreans since it usually takes around a month for defectors to make their way from China to South Korea. Unlike most defectors, the 13 had been legally working in China with proper visas and were not at risk of being deported while they made their way across China to a southern border.

      But it is rare for ordinary North Koreans to board a foreign airline, which suggests that Chinese authorities looked the other way when they boarded a flight to Seoul.

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