Tue, Jul 31, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Seoul commission to probe defection of North Korean waitresses in 2016

Reuters, SEOUL

A South Korean human rights commission yesterday said it would investigate whether a dozen North Korean restaurant workers who defected to the South two years ago came of their own free will or were tricked or coerced by an intelligence agent.

The 12 waitresses and their manager left a North Korean state-run restaurant in China to come to South Korea via Malaysia in April 2016. Seoul promptly announced their defection, but North Korea says they were abducted by South Korean agents and demanded their repatriation.

The restaurant manager has previously told South Korean news agency Yonhap and other media that an agent from South Korea’s spy agency National Intelligence Service (NIS) used persuasion and threats to get him to enter the South with the workers.

Some of the workers say they were unaware they were entering South Korea until they arrived at the South Korean embassy in Malaysia, the independent National Human Rights Commission of Korea said.

The rights group has mounted a first state probe into the case in the wake of calls by a liberal interest group of lawyers and from UN Human Rights Special Rappoteur on North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana.

The issue has complicated efforts to improve relations between the two Koreas.

The South Korean Unification Ministry has previously said it was informed from intelligence authorities that the workers came voluntarily, but Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told lawmakers last week that the ministry had not yet met the workers or verified the intelligence officials’ accounts.

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