13 North Korean de­fec­tors re­leased

The Myanmar Times - - World -

SOUTH Korea said that its in­tel­li­gence ser­vice had fin­ished in­ves­ti­gat­ing 13 North Korean restau­rant work­ers whose joint de­fec­tion trig­gered ac­cu­sa­tions from Py­ongyang that they were kid­napped.

A Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry of­fi­cial said the dozen wait­resses and their man­ager had been “re­leased into so­ci­ety” last week.

They had all been work­ing at a North Korea-themed restau­rant in China. Their ar­rival in South Korea in April made head­lines as the largest group de­fec­tion in years.

While Seoul said they fled vol­un­tar­ily, Py­ongyang claimed they were kid­napped by South Korea’s Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice (NIS) and waged a vo­cal cam­paign through its state me­dia for their im­me­di­ate re­turn.

For all North Korean de­fec­tors, life in the South be­gins with in­ten­sive NIS in­ter­ro­ga­tion that can last for months and is aimed at weed­ing out pos­si­ble spies.

They are then sent to a re­set­tle­ment cen­tre for three months’ train­ing, af­ter which they are free to start new lives in South Korean so­ci­ety.

Ar­gu­ing that the high-pro­file na­ture of the restau­rant work­ers’ case made them un­usu­ally vul­ner­a­ble, the NIS had an­nounced in June that they would re­main in pro­tec­tive cus­tody rather than be­ing sent to the cen­tre.

Now that they have been re­leased, the uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry said it would pro­vide no fur­ther de­tails of their sit­u­a­tion “for safety and se­cu­rity rea­sons”.

“They did not want to be in­ter­viewed or make pub­lic their where­abouts,” the min­istry of­fi­cial said.

The dis­pute over the de­fec­tors has fanned in­ter-Korean ten­sions that have been run­ning high since the North’s fourth nu­clear test in Jan­uary.

Nearly 30,000 North Kore­ans have fled poverty and re­pres­sion at home to set­tle in the cap­i­tal­ist South.

But group de­fec­tions are rare, es­pe­cially by staff who work in the North Korea-themed restau­rants over­seas and who are hand­picked from fam­i­lies con­sid­ered “loyal” to the regime.

Photo: EPA

Py­ongyang runs a num­ber of North Korean restau­rants abroad but a small num­ber of staff have de­fected to the South.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.