SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- The number of North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea has rebounded this year after showing a steady decline under the rule of the North's incumbent leader, government data said Sunday.
A total of 590 defectors from the North came to South Korea in the first five months of this year, posting a 16 percent hike from the same period last year, according to the data obtained from the Ministry of Unification in Seoul.
It is the first time that the arrival of North Korean defectors has increased at such a noticeable pace since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rose to power in late 2011.
In 2009, the number of North Korean defectors to the South was as high as 2,914. Then the number gradually fell since Kim's inauguration, largely due to the North's economic recovery and brutal retaliation against the defectors.
According to the ministry data, the number of defectors fell to 2,706 in 2011, 1,502 in 2012, 1,514 in 2013 and 1,397 in 2014. In 2015, the number shrank to 1,276.
Ministry officials forecast that, at the current pace, the annual number of defectors will reach about 1,500 this year.
By September or October, the cumulative number is expected to top 30,000, with a total of 29,380 defectors residing in the South as of the end of May, they said, counting international sanctions on the North for its nuclear and missile tests earlier this year as one of the reasons for the spike in defections.
On April 7, 13 North Korean employees of a North Korean restaurant in Ningbo, China, defected to South Korea.
North Korea watchers also note that North Korean people's complaint has also risen after the Pyongyang regime hosted a series of expensive and labor-intensive public events, such as the 70th anniversary ceremony of the Workers' Party of Korea in October 2015 and the party's seventh congress in May 2016.
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