An employee of a North Korean restaurant in the eastern Chinese city of Yanji tries to stop the camera crew from filming the site on April 11. Many of Pyongyang's state-run restaurants are being hit hard by sanctions, according to Seoul's spy agency. Photo by Yonhap/UPI
SEOUL, June 1 (UPI) -- Three North Korean waitresses who fled a restaurant in China in May have arrived in South Korea, according to government officials.
"It is true North Korean waitresses who once worked in a third-party country have entered the [South]," said a Seoul unification ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, according to local news service News 1.
The defectors, all in their late twenties, were in in custody in Thailand before the South Korean embassy in Bangkok accepted them as refugees.
They all fled from the same restaurant near the historical city of Xi'an in central China.
Two of the women are 29 years old, and the third is 28. All are originally from Pyongyang, Yonhap reported.
The defections occurred on May 10, immediately after the end of North Korea's Seventh Party Congress.
The waitresses traveled by land carrying only bare necessities through China and Laos to reach Thailand. They probably did not have access to their passports.
The defections took place a month after a group of 13 defectors fled another China-based North Korean restaurant in early April.
More state workers who are trusted by the regime are leaving, possibly because of financial troubles.
Seoul's National Intelligence Service told South Korean parliamentarians on April 27 that North Korean restaurants overseas are being hit hard by international sanctions. About 20 North Korean restaurants in China, the United Arab Emirates and other locations have closed, according to the spy agency.
One of the 13 defectors who arrived in the South on April 7 had said that as "sanctions worsened, many saw that there is no hope in the North Korean regime...which is why we fled to Seoul."