KCNA says South abducted defectors and China ‘connived’

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KCNA says South abducted defectors and China ‘connived’

North Korea accused South Korea of abducting its citizens in China and urged the South to send back 13 employees of a restaurant in China, its first official comment after the South announced the group’s defection last Friday.

North Korea claimed the defections were actually an unprecedented group abduction committed by the “gangsters of the puppet intelligence service,” a spokesman for the Central Committee of the Red Cross Society of the DPRK said in a statement released on late Tuesday.

“We sternly denounce the group abduction of the citizens of the DPRK as a hideous crime against its dignity and social system and the life and security of its citizens,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

It urged South Korea to apologize and immediately send them back to the North.

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The North’s Red Cross Society said it has detailed information about how the South’s intelligence service “lured” the North Korean defectors, a country that “connived” in the defections, and a Southeast Asia country they were taken to.

The South’s Ministry of Unification released a statement late Tuesday calling the North’s claim groundless and saying the defectors came to the South of their own free will.

On Friday, South Korea announced that one male manager and 12 female employees of one of North’s state-run restaurants in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, had arrived on Thursday.

The Chinese government confirmed that the defectors escaped the restaurant April 6 and left the country with valid North Korea passports.

Although the two countries haven’t disclosed specific details about how the middle-class North Koreans were able to defect to the South in just one and a half days, local reports have revealed that the group, who worked at the Ryugyong restaurant in Ningbo, moved to Shanghai by land and flew to a third country in Southeast Asia, where they took a plane bound for South Korea.

The North’s statement late Tuesday indicates that the North sees China as being complicit in the defection of 13 North Koreans.

Experts believe that Beijing, the only ally of Pyongyang, has changed its position on North Korean defectors, suggesting a schism between China and North Korea.

In the past, China repatriated North Koreans trying to leave its territory for other countries.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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