News 11 july — 13:41

Seoul denies forcing North Koreans to defect

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A South Korean government spokesman insisted Wednesday that a dozen North Korean restaurant employees who defected to the South in 2016 did so "of their own free will, Anadolu Agency reports.

The case drew global attention at the time because North Korea accused Seoul of abducting the group, who are known to have left their posting in China in April 2016.

South Korea has officially welcomed thousands of defectors seeking to escape Pyongyang's authoritarian regime, but the restaurant staff were supposedly loyal citizens who had been allowed to work overseas.

"I understand that the workers came to the South of their own free will," Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters according to Yonhap News Agency. "I have nothing more to say about that."

A day earlier, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea asked for an independent investigation, having spoken to some of the defectors in question.

"It is clear that there were some shortcomings in regards to how they were brought to South Korea," Tomas Ojea Quintana was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

"From the information I received from some of them, they were taken to [South Korea] without knowing they were coming here," he added.

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