June 1, 2016 / 9:34 AM / 3 years ago

Three North Korean restaurant defectors arrive in South: report

SEOUL (Reuters) - Three North Korean women who fled a restaurant they worked at in China have arrived in South Korea, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday quoting an unnamed government source.

The women, one aged 28 and two 29, fled the North Korean restaurant in Shanxi province and made their way to Thailand from where they flew to the South, Yonhap said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles political ties with the North, could not confirm the report. Its National Intelligence Service, which conducts initial screening of North Korean defectors, declined to comment.

The ministry said last week that some North Korean workers had recently fled their jobs in an overseas restaurant run by the North, without identifying the number or location.

The case followed the defection of 13 North Korean workers from a restaurant run by the North in China in April, which the South described as unprecedented.

North Korea accused South Korea of a “hideous abduction” in that case.

Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

About 340 defectors from the North arrived in the South in the first three months of this year, according to Unification Ministry data. A total of about 29,000 North Korean defectors have arrived in the South as of March, including 1,276 last year, with numbers declining since a 2009 peak.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie

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