A Seoul government official reported Friday that 13 North Koreans who worked in a state-run restaurant outside of the country have defected to South Korea.
Though defections by individual restaurant workers have happened in the past, this is the first time multiple staff members have left en masse, according to Yahoo! News.
The South Korean government estimates that Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, makes about $10 million every year from the 130 restaurants it operates in 12 countries, which are mostly run by North Korean staff.
Regarding the defectors, Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-Hee says, “We cannot reveal the country and the route they took. That's because we are concerned about a possible diplomatic clash with a third country, the protection of the group and other possible cases that might arise in the future.”
Jeong believes that UN sanctions imposed on North Korea after its January nuclear test were one of the triggers for the staff’s plot to escape.
North Korea is known to be strict when selecting people to work in its overseas restaurants. “From what we know, there is some competition for being deployed to overseas restaurants. We believe that in order to win the competition, they must be from relatively good families,” Jeong said.
The defectors are in relatively good heath, as was revealed in medical check-ups.