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South Korea welcomes group of defectors from the North

South Korea's unification ministry has confirmed that a group of defectors from the North had 'broken away.' The number of people in the group has not been specified.

The South Korean unification ministry confirmed on Tuesday that a group of defectors had "broken away," but refused to specify their number or the location, citing safety concerns.

A Seoul based news outlet, New Focus, run by a North Korean defector reported the defectors were restaurant workers. However, South Korean news agency Yonhap said that a group of women in their 20s actually worked in the Chinese city of Xian, and had arrived in Seoul via Thailand.

The report comes several weeks after 13 restaurant workers left China, where they also worked in a Pyongyang restaurant, and traveled to South Korea. Although individual workers were known to defect, Seoul described the size of the group as "unprecedented."

Pyongyang responded furiously to the news, accusing Seoul of tricking and "abducting" their workers and threatening "unimaginable consequences" over the incident.

Handpicked defectors

South Korean spy agency believes that Pyongyang runs some 130 restaurants in foreign countries, mostly in China. North also sends its workers to logging camp in Russia. In this way, the isolated country brings badly needed foreign currency to its budget.

There are currently between 50,000 and 60,000 workers on overseas jobs, according to the National Intelligence Service.

The North's regime generally handpicks the workers from loyal families and sends them for extensive ideological training before allowing them to leave the country. They are also watched by special minders while working.

Possible defectors also need to weigh the consequences for the family members they leave behind.

Despite sharp penalties and retribution risks, almost 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the truce in 1953.

dj/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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