13 North Korean staff in overseas restaurant defect to South

[SEOUL] 13 North Koreans working in a state-run restaurant outside the country have defected to South Korea, a government official in Seoul said Friday.

The defectors, one man and a dozen women, arrived in the South on Thursday, Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee told reporters.

He declined to identify the country where the restaurant was located.

The South Korean government estimates that Pyongyang rakes in around US$10 million every year from some 130 restaurants it operates - with mostly North Korean staff - in 12 countries.

Last month, while unveiling a series of unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang over its January nuclear test, Seoul had urged South Korean citizens overseas to boycott any such establishments, saying their profits funded the North's nuclear weapons programme.

There have been defections by individual restaurant workers in the past, but this is the first time the entire staff of one restaurant has defected en masse, Mr Jeong said.

He quoted one of the defectors as saying that everyone had been "on the same page" about escaping to South Korea.

"Medical check-ups show that their health condition is relatively good," Mr Jeong said.

"We cannot reveal the country and the route they took.

"That's because we are concerned about a possible diplomatic clash with a third country, the protection of the group and other possible cases that might arise in the future," he added.


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