North Korean restaurant defectors released in South Korea

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A group of 13 North Koreans who defected from China to South Korea earlier this year have been released from custody, officials say.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said 12 women and one man had begun the process of resettlement in South Korea.

They defected in April from a Pyongyang-run restaurant, with Seoul calling the size of the group “unprecedented”.

But the spy agency kept them in custody as the case was high profile.

North Korean defectors are usually sent to a state resettlement facility for three months after being questioned by the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

But at the time, the NIS said North Korea was using the case for propaganda, claiming the female workers had been abducted by Seoul’s spy agency.

Separately, a diplomat at the North Korean embassy in London was reported on Tuesday to have defected and fled abroad with his family.

Thae Yong Ho, had served as deputy to the ambassador and was responsible for promoting the image of his country to British audiences.

‘Valid documents’

The group of restaurant workers were said to have been found “exiting the Chinese border with valid passports” on 6 April. They all had valid identity documents and had entered and exited legally.

The restaurant was reportedly located in Ningbo, in China’s north-eastern province of Zhejiang, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, which cited unnamed sources.

North Korea runs some 130 restaurants in other countries.

The restaurants provide a much-needed source of income for North Korea but South Korea says economic reasons and tightened international sanctions against the North mean many businesses are struggling.

 

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