3 defect from restaurant in Shanghai

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3 defect from restaurant in Shanghai

Three North Korean restaurant workers from Shanghai escaped their workplace and are now in a third country awaiting transfer to South Korea, according to Jang Jin-sung, a defector-turned-journalist.

Jang, who runs the magazine New Focus International, which exclusively reports on North Korea, told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Monday that the three workers, all female, ran away from the state-controlled Shanghai restaurant and landed in a third country last week and were in safety.

“I am sharing this information as I have confirmed their safety in a third country,” said Jang, who refused to identify the third country or explain how he had acquired the information, citing safety concerns. “They were placed under a lot of pressure to make money and send it to North Korea as it was preparing for the party congress,” he added, saying that the trio is awaiting a flight to Seoul.

Jang noted that the trio had decided to “emulate” the mass defection by 13 North Korean restaurant workers last month from the Chinese eastern port city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province. The rare defection of overseas workers was made public by the South Korean government shortly after their arrival in Seoul, which called the size of the defection “unprecedented.”

A South Korean official said nothing has been confirmed yet, but that government protocol is not to confirm defections unless asylum-seekers have landed in the country.

If Jang’s account is accurate, this would indicate that the news of the April defection of 13 workers had been circulated among North Korean workers overseas, who experts say are subject to labor exploitation by the cash-hungry Communist regime.

The 13-member defection, which comprised of 12 women and one man who used to manage a state-controlled restaurant, highlighted the growing pain felt by North Korean workers overseas to bring in foreign currency to channel it back to Pyongyang, which has been slapped with tightening sanctions for its fourth nuclear test and a long-range missile test. North Korea claimed the South’s intelligence agency had “abducted” 13 workers after “luring” them, and demanded their return, a claim that was outright rejected by the South.

The North also demanded a face-to-face meeting between the 13 defectors and their families at the border village of Panmunjom, a demand also rebuffed by the South, which made clear they had sought asylum on their own and Seoul had accepted them on humanitarian grounds.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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