Seoul, July 17 (IANS) South Korea’s military intelligence agency has been accused of being behind the defection of a group of North Korean waitresses in 2016, Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday.
The Defence Intelligence Command (DIC) unit, affiliated with the defence ministry, carried out the operation with the support of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a source privy to North Korea issues told Yonhap.
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’s manager. They are believed to have reached Seoul via Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.
The DIC led the first stage of the operation until the group was moved to Shanghai, while the NIA took charge of their onward journey, said the source.
The DIC is also under investigation over allegedly hatching a plot to quash protests against then-president Park Geun-hye in 2017.
When the group arrived in the South in April 2016, the Park-ruled government publicized the event as a mass defection.
From the beginning the case raised suspicion – either from claims of the North Korean regime itself, from testimonies of other workers who chose not to defect, or from waitresses’ relatives from the North who asked for their return.
Last week in Seoul, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana said that some waitresses told him personally that “they were taken to the Republic of Korea without knowing they were coming here”.
The UN rapporteur, who is also a lawyer, has urged a detailed and independent probe into the matter.