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UN human rights expert to meet with NK restaurant workers: report

A UN human rights expert said he will meet this week with North Korean restaurant workers who defected to the South in 2016, a US broadcaster reported on Friday.

Pyongyang has demanded the repatriation of 12 North Korean restaurant workers, claiming they were abducted by South Korean authorities in China.

In an interview aired by local broadcaster JTBC in May, the restaurant manager who defected to the South with the female employees said the South’s National Intelligence Service had orchestrated their defection. 

Thirteen DPRK restaurant workers who defected en masse in April 2016. (Yonhap)
Thirteen DPRK restaurant workers who defected en masse in April 2016. (Yonhap)

Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on North Korea, said in an interview with Voice of America in Seoul that a thorough investigation is necessary to find out what really happened in April 2016, and that now is not the time to answer whether they should be sent back to the North.

“The main, principal issue that we need to pay attention in this case is what is the will and what is the interest of these restaurant workers,” Quintana was quoted as saying by VOA.

“What is needed now here in South Korea is a credible and thorough investigation about what happened two years ago with these restaurant workers.”

After the South Korean government finds out the truth, it should ask the restaurant workers what they want to do, he said.

“So it’s just up to them, and not the government, not the media, not the UN to say what they want,” he said.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said after the JTBC report that it was difficult to verify the facts as the restaurant workers refused to meet with ministry officials.

Quintana, who arrived in South Korea on Monday, is scheduled to hold a press conference on the results of his visit next Tuesday.

Regarding another North Korean defector Kim Ryun-hee who is demanding to be sent back to the North, Quintana said it is difficult to reach a firm conclusion on the issue.

“There is a problem of the legislation here in South Korea, security legislation, Constitution of South Korea which somehow impedes her to return to North Korea,” he was quoted as saying.

Quintana suggested the South Korean government consider her request to be repatriated, adding that the case will be a good opportunity to further soften the relations between the Koreas.

Kim has claimed that she has been staying in the South against her will after a broker lied and brought her here regardless of her intention in 2011.

By Kim So-hyun (