Burmese officials say that some North Korean defectors have been released from detention and have been sent to neighboring Thailand.

Nineteen North Korean defectors were trying to make their way to South Korea by passing through China and Southeast Asia.  They were detained in Burma in early December and faced charges of illegal immigration.

South Korean officials say the group will be allowed to go to South Korea.

North Koreans fleeing their impoverished homeland are increasingly choosing Southeast Asia as a destination after passing through China, in hopes they eventually can resettle in South Korea.

China does not recognize North Korean defectors as refugees, and many are sent home involuntarily to face harsh punishment or even death.

Thailand is widely considered one of the more politically favorable destinations for North Korean defectors hoping to reach the South.  

About 14,000 North Korean defectors have resettled in South Korea, where they are automatically recognized as citizens under the constitution.  International human rights groups say tens of thousands of others are living illegally in China.