SEOUL – South Korea reiterated on Wednesday that 12 North Korean waitresses had defected to South Korea in 2016 of their own free will, after a United Nations rapporteur demanded a probe in the matter.
On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, had urged for a probe to find out if there was any truth to allegations that some of the waitresses were tricked into defecting to the South.
“I understand that the workers came to the South of their own free will,” Unification Ministry spokesperson, Baik Tae-hyun, said at a press conference when asked about Quintana’s request for probe.
“I have nothing more to say about that,” Baik said, according to news agency Yonhap, adding that some of the women were reluctant to share personal information owing to safety concerns for their families in the North.
Ojea, who was able to speak to some of the waitresses, said on Tuesday they told him “they were taken to the Republic of Korea without knowing they were coming here.”
The 12 women, who worked in a North Korean restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo, arrived in South Korea in April 2016 along with the restaurant manager, also a North Korean, in what the then-South Korean Government had touted as a mass defection from the North.
In May, the restaurant manager had said South Korea’s spy agency had forced him to trick the local staff to defect with him and his wife, allegedly to highlight it as an achievement of the incumbent conservative government in 2016.
Since then, a group of South Korean prosecutors have been working on the case, although details of the investigation are yet to be made public.