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Colleagues of NK restaurant staff defectors hiding in China: sources

2016/04/12 11:06

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- Colleagues of the 13 North Koreans who defected to South Korea last week are believed to be hiding out in China under South Korean government protection, as they wait to reach Seoul, sources familiar with their flight said Tuesday.

About five to seven other North Koreans who used to work at a restaurant in the Chinese eastern port city of Ningbo are known to be hiding in other areas of China, biding their time before they make it to the South, according the sources.

Last week, a mass defection of restaurant workers took place amid toughened international sanctions on Pyongyang over its latest nuclear and missile tests.

North Korean restaurants in foreign nations have recently faced business hardships with some shutting down following stronger sanctions. They have served as one of the main sources of dollars for cash-strapped North Korea, which is suspected of using such earnings to bankroll its nuclear and missile programs.

If the remaining North Koreans are under Seoul's protection, they will likely avoid being forced back to their country.

"As the latest mass defections have been made public, it is not easy for the remainder to move (even if they want to enter South Korea)," the source said.

The source dismissed rumors that the colleagues of the 13 workers are hiding in an unidentified Southeast Asian country.

The government has declined to comment on whether there are remaining North Koreans hoping to defect to the South.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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