By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – A trio of North Korean waitresses believed to have escaped from their overseas posting in China are set to arrive in the South “as early as this week”, according to local reports Monday.
They would follow 13 other restaurant staff who defected last month -- although Pyongyang has accused Seoul of kidnapping the first group.
While tens of thousands of North Koreans have defied their authoritarian regime by resettling in South Korea since the 1990s, the burgeoning trend of restaurant defections has made headlines because the North supposedly sends only loyal subjects abroad to earn valuable currency in the face of heavy sanctions.
The South celebrated last month’s mass defection as evidence of punitive measures doing their job -- the latest United Nations sanctions were unveiled in March following North Korea’s fourth ever nuclear test and subsequent rocket launch.
Last week, Seoul confirmed that more North Koreans had “recently fled an overseas restaurant”.
Local news agency Yonhap cited “a source familiar with North Korean affairs” when claiming Monday that the three waitresses are waiting for permission to fly to South Korea from Thailand.
The source asserted that the women do not have passports and “South Korean authorities are believed to be seeking cooperation with relevant organizations there.”
A Seoul spokesperson refused to offer further details when asked during a press briefing.
South Korea supports North Korean defectors if they pass through a vetting process at designated resettlement centers.