South Korea’s intelligence agency will continue to hold 13 North Koreans at the heart of a bitter dispute between the rival countries. South Korea says they defected of their own free will, while the North claims they were abducted.
Intelligence officers want longer to question the group of 12 waitresses and a manager at a North Korea-run restaurant in China, who arrived in Seoul in April. The move came ahead of a South Korean court’s decision to delay a request for a hearing by a group of lawyers. The lawyers want to question the group about whether they defected freely, after the intelligence agency refused to present them in court.
The National Intelligence Service has held the group since they arrived in South Korea on April 7 at a facility it runs on the southern outskirts of Seoul. More than 1,000 people from North Korea stay at the facility each year in the initial stages of defection. For up to 180 days, they are screened and questioned on their lives in the North.
The agency’s decision to extend the women’s stay means they will not be moved to a resettlement complex where defectors spend 12 weeks learning about life in the South.