N Korea links defectors’ return to family reunions: Sources

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SEOUL: North Korea has reiterated that the return of a dozen citizens who arrived in 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.

The North's position was made clear in last week's first inter-Korea talks in more than 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.

While South Korea usually keeps the defections of North Koreans secret, it held an official press briefing the following day to announce the group had defected.

Pyongyang has insisted the waitresses were abducted by Seoul's spy agency, alleging the manager had duped them. There has been debate on whether the women voluntarily went to the South.

In a report on North Korean human rights submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in September, the UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights Tomas Ojea Quintana said some of the women might not have agreed to defect.

While North Korea agreed to send a high-level delegation to the Olympics and hold talks with Seoul to ease military tensions, it balked at resuming the reunions, last held in October 2015.