Thirteen more North Korean defectors were reported by the South Korean intelligence service on Wednesday, extending the record number fleeing hardships in the communist state.
The National Intelligence Service said 360 North Koreans had now arrived in the South this year, with nearly all explaining they wanted to escape food shortages and other economic hardships.
According to official South Korean figures, 312 people from the North defected last year. The South Korean authorities have had to increase reception facilities as the final number for 2001 is expected to be twice that of 2000.
A service spokesman said the 12 arrived through a third country, which generally means China and that most were laborers or were unemployed.
Aid groups estimate that up to 300,000 North Koreans have taken refuge across the border in China with many hoping to come to South Korea.
Human rights groups have recently stepped up complaints to China which sends back most North Koreans found hiding. Activists say that those sent back face long prison terms and sometimes the death penalty -- SEOUL (AFP)