UN official seeks inquiry into defection of North Korean waitresses

A United Nations official called for an investigation into the defection of North Korean restaurant workers to the South in 2016, saying at least some of the group appeared to have been deceived into leaving and hinting that Seoul officials were responsible. The fate of the waitresses has become a source of tension between North and South Korea, threatening to strain the cross-border detente that has blossomed over recent months. Pyongyang says the women were abducted by Seoul’s spy agency and has demanded their return.

On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said that his interviews with some of the women revealed concerns about how they ended up in the South. He has urged the South Korean government to repatriate any who wished to return to North Korea.

Seoul says the 12 women and their male manager defected willingly from the restaurant in China where they worked. North Korea has long sent workers abroad to earn money for the regime; as part of that effort, Pyongyang operated dozens of restaurants in numerous countries employing North Koreans.

North Korea has used the issue to try to extract concessions from the South, presenting the Moon administration with a dilemma: Risk hurting the current detente by refusing, or set a precedent of returning defectors to North Korea, which could discourage future defections.

[Wall Street Journal]

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