South Korean human rights activists say Chinese authorities have arrested a group of North Korean defectors trying to reach a Southeast Asian nation on their way to South Korea.

Speaking to VOA's Korean service Monday, the rights activists said Chinese police detained the 11 defectors and their two guides on Friday in the southwestern city of Kunming. They said the group was trying to board a bus bound for the unidentified Southeast Asian country. The sources also said two other defectors escaped arrest.

The activists said the two detained guides are ethnic Korean Chinese citizens.

North Koreans escaping repression and poverty in their homeland typically travel secretly through neighboring China with the help of guides. Many defectors try to reach Burma, Laos or Vietnam, in the hope of catching a flight from those nations to South Korea.

China views the defectors as illegal economic migrants and usually repatriates those whom it catches.

The rights activists urged the South Korean government to intervene by asking China not to repatriate the defectors detained in Kunming. North Koreans forcibly returned to their country face severe punishment.

Seoul said it was trying to verify reports about the defectors. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing deals with "illegal border crossers" according to "domestic law, international law and humanitarian spirit."