Pyongyang sets terms for family reunions to resume

SEOUL • North Korea has reiterated that the return of a dozen citizens who were brought to South Korea in 2016 is a precondition for resuming reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported, citing sources well-versed in North Korean affairs.

The North's position was made clear in last Tuesday's first inter-Korean talks in over two years as well as in preliminary negotiations, Kyodo said, citing the sources, referring to 12 waitresses at a North Korean government-run restaurant in China, along with their male manager, who arrived in the South on April 7, 2016.

Negotiators from both countries met again yesterday to discuss appearances by performers from Pyongyang's state-run artistic troupes at next month's Winter Olympics in the South.

While the Seoul government usually keeps the defections of ordinary North Koreans secret out of concern for the safety of their family in the North, it held an official press briefing the following day to announce the group's defection. It was described as the largest group defection since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to power in late 2011.

North Korea insists the female employees were abducted by Seoul's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, alleging that the male manager had duped them. Debate has since centred on whether the women travelled voluntarily to the South.

In a report on North Korean human rights submitted to the United Nations General Assembly last year, Mr Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, noted that some of the women might not have agreed to defect.

The North has reportedly made the return of the 12 workers as well as another citizen named Kim Ryon Hui a precondition for resuming the family reunions since June last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'Pyongyang sets terms for family reunions to resume'. Print Edition | Subscribe