N. Korea warns Seoul over ‘kidnapped’ defectors

Pyongyang’s media demands repatriation of restaurant workers who arrived in South Korea under suspicious circumstances
SEOUL: North Korean media outlets warned Friday that inter-Korean ties could be hurt if the South does not send back a dozen restaurant staff who defected in April 2016.
Pyongyang has consistently accused the South of abducting the women, who had been stationed at one of the North’s overseas posts in China.
“If our female citizens’ repatriation issue is not resolved as quickly as possible, it could serve as an obstacle not just to the planned reunions of separated families between the two Koreas but also to the overall inter-Korean relations,” North Korea’s state-controlled propaganda website Uriminzokkiri cautioned.
The issue resurfaced this month when a UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea called for a “thorough” and “independent” investigation after he met with some of the defectors in question.
The restaurant manager, who arrived in South Korea along with his staff, has also repeatedly claimed via local media since May that he was blackmailed by Seoul agents into leading the group to the South.
What seemed like an improbable claim of abduction by North Korea has gained further traction because Seoul publicly drew attention to the mass defection just days ahead of the 2016 general election, even though South Korea has welcomed tens of thousands of refugees from the North since the 1990s.
However, the restaurant manager’s testimony suggests the staff were persuaded to leave their post in China to work in a Southeast Asian nation, which may yet raise concerns about their repatriation to North Korea because Pyongyang is known to be harsh on defectors and their families.
Moreover, South Korea has maintained that the restaurant staff entered the country of their own free will.
A separate North Korean news outlet, Arirang-Meari, echoed the view that if the issue of the “kidnapped” workers is not resolved, it could damage bilateral relations that have been improving in line with April’s first inter-Korean summit in over a decade.
It also cast doubt on next month’s plan to temporarily reunite relatives divided by the border after decades of separation since the 1950-53 Korean War.–AA

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