North Korea made another demand of South Korea on Saturday, urging it to return a dozen defectors surrounded by conspiracy and controversy.
Twelve North Korean waitresses and their manager defected from China, where they worked earning money for the Kim regime, to South Korea in April 2016. North Korea has long accused South Korea of kidnapping the waitresses.
Heo Gang Il, the manager, recently revealed in an interview with South Korean cable television network JTBC that he forced the women to defect while acting on the orders of the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s spy agency, confirming North Korea’s suspicions.
The interview, which also involved several of the waitresses, triggered an investigation by Seoul.
Those female “citizens of the DPRK were proven to have been forcibly abducted by the puppet Intelligence Service by interviews of a criminal involved in the case and victims,” North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday, quoting a spokesman for North Korea’s Red Cross Society.
Calling the abduction of North Korean citizens an “unheard-of atrocity of the Park regime,” a reference to the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the North stated that Seoul “severely punish those involved in the case, send our women citizens to their families without delay and thus show the will to improve the North-South ties.”
“We will prudently watch their future attitude,” the report concluded.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon dismissed claims on Friday that South Korea’s spy agency was involved in the forcible abduction of the women from North Korea. He said they came to South Korea of their own free will and are now living as South Korean citizens.
While these 12 defectors have long been a point of contention between North and South Korea, the latest spat over their fate comes at the worst possible time.
Saturday’s demands are the latest setback in the peace process, as North Korea suspended all talks with the South indefinitely Wednesday in response to joint air exercises with the U.S. military, as well as the South Korean government’s decision to allow high-ranking defector Thae Yong Ho to criticize the North Korean regime in a speech at the National Assembly Monday.
In the wake of those criticisms, the North also warned that it would be watching the attitudes of South Korean authorities carefully.
North Korea has also threatened President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticizing Washington for its inability to view North Korea as a powerful nuclear-armed state that has earned a seat at the table.
Instead, the Trump administration continues to see the North as a defeated country crippled by the maximum pressure strategy and willing to sacrifice its nuclear arsenal for economic salvation, a notion Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected.
The peace process appears to be in jeopardy, and it is unclear whether it can be put back on track.
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