April 22, 2016 10:44
Seven North Korean women who worked in the same restaurant in China as the 13 staff who defected told CNN Thursday that the defectors were tricked by the store's manager and a South Korean businessman.
While the 13 opted to defect, the seven others claimed they chose to return to the North. "I think about our colleagues being deceived and dragged to South Korea and facing extreme hardship there," said Han Yun-hui, one of the workers who returned to Pyongyang. "It tears our hearts."
CNN conducted the interview at the Koryo Hotel in the North Korean capital on Monday.
They claimed the restaurant manager deceived the other 12 waitresses into defecting by lying about where they were headed. "In mid-March our restaurant manager gathered us together and told us that our restaurant would be moved to somewhere in Southeast Asia," said head waitress Choe Hye-yong.
Choe claimed that by the time the manager revealed, only to her, that they were actually defecting to South Korea, she only had time to "warn" some of the waitresses.
The North Korean Red Cross, a misleadingly named state agency, said in a statement that Pyongyang is willing to send the families of the defectors to the border truce village of Panmunjom or even to the South Korean capital to prove that the workers were tricked.
The fact that regime primed the seven women to speak to the international media shows what a shock the defection was.
One source said the mass defections "poured cold water" on the upcoming Workers Party congress. "North Korea has no choice but to claim that the workers had been abducted to prevent other North Koreans from following suit," the source said.
"Can you believe that 13 North Koreans were abducted in China, where state security is so tight?" the source asked.
CNN said the defection was a "humiliating blow" to the Pyongyang leadership since it was "apparently allowed by China, North Korea's most powerful ally and trading partner."
The Unification Ministry here reiterated that the 13 North Koreans defected of their own free will and added that the North's abduction claim is "unworthy of a response."
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