North Korea demands return of a dozen waitress ‘defectors’
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North Korea demands return of a dozen waitress ‘defectors’

NORTH KOREA has demanded the return of a dozen defectors who fled to South Korea two years ago, state media said Saturday.

The waitresses and their escape has long proven a controversial topic on the Korea peninsula. Pyongyang claims the women were kidnapped from a North Korean state-run restaurant in China while Seoul insists they defected of their own free will.

But the restaurant’s manager said in a recent interview he had lied to the women and blackmailed them into following him under the orders of the South’s spy agency.

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The dispute could be enough to derail peace talks between the two countries, said a statement from the North’s Red Cross carried by the official KCNA news agency.

“The South Korean authorities should… send our women citizens to their families without delay and thus show the will to improve North-South ties,” the statement said.

Relations on the Korean peninsula have thawed after a summit between the South’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on April 27.

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A North Korean waitress cleans the floor of a North Korean restaurant in Dandong, Liaoning province, China, September 12, 2016. Source: Reuters/Thomas Peter

The North, however, abruptly cancelled high-level talks last week after Pyongyang labelled US-South Korea military exercises a “provocation” and a “flagrant challenge” to the Panmunjom Declaration of peace that was agreed between the two sides.

Pyongyang’s response to the air drills also threw doubt on whether a highly anticipated meet between Kim and US President Donald Trump will go ahead on June 12 as scheduled.

“The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-US summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities,” KCNA said on Wednesday.

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The White House, and Trump himself, have said they have had no direct communication from the North Koreans to suggest the summit would not go ahead and are pressing on with preparations.

“The President is prepared and will be ready to meet. And we’re continuing to move forward with the preparations at this point,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday.

“And if the North Koreans want to meet, we’ll be there.”