May 24, 2016 09:46
Another group of North Koreans who worked in a restaurant in China have defected and are waiting in a third country to come to South Korea, it emerged on Monday.
Their decision seems to have been triggered by the earlier defection of 12 waitresses and their manager from a North Korean restaurant in Ningbo.
"The North Korean restaurant workers arrived safely in a third country and should be able to arrive in Seoul this week," a source said.
A source in China said Chinese security forces are investigating the incident. There are conflicting reports on when and where the workers escaped, as well as their exact number.
Jang Jin-sung, a defector who edits the magazine New Focus International, said they were three women in their 20 who escaped from a restaurant in Shanghai.
But an intelligence source said that information "lacked credibility." Another source said they were two or three workers from a restaurant in Xian. The government merely said it is checking the information.
North Korea is reeling under tougher international sanctions following its latest nuclear test and putting pressure on restaurant staff abroad to send back more money for the regime. But since the latest UN Security Council resolution, North Korean restaurants overseas has seen fewer and fewer customers, and the once-desirable jobs are becoming a slog.
North Korea runs around 130 restaurants overseas which at one time generated some US$40 million a year. Some 90 are in China, nine in Russia, seven in Cambodia and four in Vietnam.
Seoul has asked South Korean travelers, who often make up the bulk of customers, to avoid the restaurants, which has led to several shutting down.
But North Korean officials apparently keep forcing those that stay open to send more cash back to Pyongyang.
"North Korean workers are quickly summoned back to Pyongyang and punished if they don't achieve their quota," a source said. "The latest defections were probably triggered by increasing pressure to meet quotas."
Restaurant staff usually come from privileged families and are aware of the world around them. "They probably felt there's no hope for North Korea," a government source here speculated.
A growing number of North Koreans working abroad are less and less loyal to the regime, and the Ningbo defections seem to have emboldened others, despite furious claims from Pyongyang that the 13 were "abducted."
More than 50,000 North Koreans work abroad raising hard currency for the regime.
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