World Bulletin / News Desk
The South’s role in the group’s escape from their posting in China has come under renewed scrutiny, as the National Human Rights Commission announced over the weekend that it will investigate the matter after UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana called earlier this month for an “independent” probe, having interviewed some of the defectors in question.
"Our ministry has been cooperating with the human rights commission," spokesperson Lee Eugene said at a press briefing, according to local news agency Yonhap.
But referring to Seoul’s repeated rejection of North Korea’s long-held accusation that the defectors were abducted, Lee insisted that “our stance on the matter remains unchanged”.
Pyongyang pressed the issue again recently, warning that inter-Korean ties could be hurt if the South does not send its citizens back.
Generally, Seoul provides refuge to North Koreans seeking to escape Pyongyang’s notoriously authoritarian regime – and thousands have taken up the offer since the 1990s.
Suspicions arose, however, because the South Korean government publicly drew attention to the group’s defection just before a general election.
Moreover, the 12 restaurant workers’ manager, who arrived in the South along with the group, has claimed via local media since May that he was blackmailed by Seoul agents into leading the group out of China, thinking they would instead be allowed to move to a Southeast Asian nation.