Newspaper article International New York Times

North Korea Threatens Seoul over 13 Defectors

Newspaper article International New York Times

North Korea Threatens Seoul over 13 Defectors

Article excerpt

The North on Tuesday warned the South that it would "face unimaginable serious consequences and severe punishment" if it did not repatriate the group.

North Korea has accused South Korea of kidnapping 13 of its citizens who had been working in a restaurant in China and has demanded their repatriation.

The response on Tuesday was the first by North Korea to a highly unusual group defection last week. The 13 North Koreans were the largest single group to defect to South Korea during Kim Jong-un's reign. Mr. Kim has been trying to stem the flow of North Koreans fleeing to the South.

South Korea welcomed the restaurant workers' defection last week as a major coup and quickly dismissed North Korea's demand that they be returned.

South Korean officials said that United Nations sanctions were squeezing the revenues of restaurants and other enterprises that North Korea operates abroad to earn badly needed cash. North Korean trade officials, diplomats and workers abroad are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the government-set goals in earning foreign currency, the officials said, and some are tempted to defect rather than be recalled home for punishment.

On Tuesday, North Korea said the South's intelligence agents "lured and abducted" the 13 North Koreans by using "all sorts of appeasement, deception and gimmicks."

"Unless they apologize for the hideous abduction and send those abductees back, they will face unimaginable serious consequences and severe punishment," a spokesman for the North's Red Cross Society was quoted as saying by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said the North Koreans had defected of their own free will.

Mr. Kim's government has also been trying to make up for lost revenues in arms sales and other activities that are banned under United Nations sanctions by increasing the number of workers it sends abroad to earn cash. Under Mr. Kim, the number of North Korean restaurants in 12 countries has grown to 130, a majority of them in China, South Korean officials said. …

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