DPRK state-run media on Monday urged the South Korean government to “immediately” repatriate 12 North Korean restaurant workers that Pyongyang has claimed were abducted by ROK authorities.
In an editorial, the DPRK Today described the alleged abduction of the North Korean women as a “hideous crime,” and warned that failure to return them could impact inter-Korean relations.
South Korean local broadcaster JTBC earlier in the month claimed the workers had been brought to the ROK against their will, in a report featuring purported interviews with the manager of the restaurant and four of the women who had worked at the DPRK-run restaurant in Ningbo, China.
The DPRK outlet on Monday said the report had proved that the mass defection was masterminded by the South Korean government with the purpose of swaying the 2016 general election and with the goal of “encouraging confrontation with fellow countrymen.”
“There is no reason and excuse for detaining them… as it was laid bare as the anti-human and hideous crime intentionally committed by traitor Park Geun-hye and secret agents,” the DPRK Today reported.
Seoul ought to repatriate them “immediately,” it continued, arguing that doing so would be in keeping with the spirit of the agreement signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April.
“If the South Korean authorities are sincerely interested in the implementation of this historic ‘Panmunjom Declaration’ and the humanitarian issue, they should immediately return those women citizens of the DPRK,” the report said.
That agreement saw South and Pyongyang agree to work to “swiftly resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the nation” and agree to, among other things, a reunion of families separated by the Korean War on August 15.
Pyongyang had previously claimed the South would have to return the 12 women – as well as defector Kim Ryon Hui – before these reunions could take place.
DPRK state media had, however, ceased calls for their repatriation since January, according to KCNA Watch.
Saturday, however, saw various North Korean outlets break this five-month silence, with the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carrying a statement from the spokesperson for the Central Committee of the Red Cross Society of the DPRK responding to the JTBC report.
Recent reports, notably, have emphasized Seoul’s commitments under the Panmunjom Declaration.
“What can not be overlooked is that the South Korean authorities, obliged to handle the issue, have adopted an unequivocal stance to shun the demands of the public at home and abroad,” the spokesperson said in an English-language report carried by KCNA.
The Moon administration’s attitude on the issue “has greatly disappointed” the North, the spokesperson continued, “before the ink on the Panmunjom Declaration got dry.”
The South Korean government’s handling of the issue “would have a great impact on deciding the prospect of settling the humanitarian issue between the North and the South clarified in the Panmunjom Declaration,” the statement added.
The Moon administration could demonstrate “the will to improve” inter-Korean relations by “severely punishing” those involved in the case and returning the 12 women “without delay,” the statement said.
DPRK state media outlet Uriminzokkiri on Sunday also called on the Moon administration to return the women, echoing calls for the “stern punishment” of those responsible for their alleged abduction, with the North’s Arirang-Meari the following day reiterating claims that they were “forcibly” brought to the South.
Despite fears that warming inter-Korean ties would see Seoul cave to the North’s demands and repatriate the women, ROK unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Thursday said the government’s position on the issue had not changed.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, Cho told lawmakers that relevant organs were investigating the issue.
“The women workers are currently living as citizens of the Republic of Korea after they came to the South on their free will,” the unification minister said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Uri Tours
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