Burmese authorities have arrested 19 North Korean defectors and plan to charge them with illegally entering the country, a senior police official said Saturday.
The group was trying to make their way to South Korea via China and Southeast Asia, an increasingly popular route for North Koreans trying to escape chronic hunger and repression in their communist homeland.
An official, who did not want to be named, said "As they were arrested in our territory, we are taking action against them under the immigration act," he said.
The Burmese police official said he was not sure if the 19 people would be returned and said the North Korean embassy in Rangoon had not yet intervened.
Military-ruled Burma and hardline communist North Korea, which are both severely criticized internationally for human rights abuses, restored diplomatic relations in April 2007.
Burma severed ties with Pyongyang in 1983 following a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents on then-South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan during his visit to Rangoon. The bombing killed 17 of Chun's entourage including cabinet ministers while four Burmese officials also died.
Burma, which has been ruled by generals since 1962, and North Korea have been branded "outposts of tyranny" by the United States, which imposes sanctions on both.