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(LEAD) 13 N. Koreans from overseas restaurant defect to S. Korea: Seoul

All Headlines 17:56 April 08, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES with more info from para 2)

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- A group of 13 North Koreans working at a restaurant in a foreign country defected en masse to South Korea this week, Seoul's unification ministry said Friday, as the U.N. Security Council has slapped tougher sanctions on the North.

The defectors -- one male manager and 12 female employees at a restaurant in an unidentified nation -- arrived in South Korea on Thursday, the ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said.

Overseas restaurants operated by North Korea are known to be facing difficulties in doing business after the U.N. Security Council's (UNSC) imposed sanctions on Pyongyang for its January nuclear test and long-range rocket launch in February.

Such restaurants have served as one of the main sources of hard currency for North Korea, which is suspected of bankrolling the North's nuclear and missile programs.

The government declined to reveal the route of their defection or detailed personal information about them.

"It marked the first time that a group of North Koreans at the same restaurant has opted to come to South Korea at once," Jeong Joon-hee, a ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing. "The government has accepted their request to come to South Korea on humanitarian grounds."

South Korea has restricted its nationals from using North Korean restaurants in China and other nations to cut off a source of hard currency for North Korea.

Jeong said that the North Koreans have recently decided to defect to Seoul as they have realized the reality of South Korea and been disillusioned with the North's ideological campaigns by watching South Korean TV dramas and movies.

It is unusual for South Korea to publicly confirm North Koreans' defections, as Seoul usually keeps a low-key stance about the issue.

"The government has decided to unveil the case as it is rare that a group of North Koreans has defected to South Korea under the U.N. sanctions regime," Jeong said.

The ministry said that the government will conduct investigation of them to find out the exact motivations for their defection and other details.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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