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China-based N. Koreans defected via Southeast Asia: source

All News 11:41 April 09, 2016

SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- The 13 North Koreans who recently defected as a group to South Korea used to work at a restaurant in China, a source said Saturday.

They fled the North's surveillance and then moved to a Southeast Asian country in a bid to reach the South.

"The North Korean employees escaped while working at a restaurant in China and entered South Korea via Southeast Asia," the source said on the condition of anonymity.

The South's Unification Ministry announced Friday that the North Koreans -- one male manager and 12 female employees -- defected to Seoul. It did not reveal details including the location of the restaurant or defection route.

The ministry cited the likelihood of a diplomatic rift, concerns over the defectors' security and other possible consequences.

In a bid to earn foreign currency, North Korea's authorities reportedly operate more than 130 restaurants in a dozen foreign nations including China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Roughly 100 of these restaurants are located in China alone.

The businesses have suffered since the U.N. imposed tougher sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and long-range rocket tests earlier this year. lcd@yna.co.kr

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