North Korean state restaurant workers arriving in Seoul in April, after they left China on valid passports. Pyongyang has sent a letter to the U.N., alleging the women were abducted by South Korea. Photo courtesy of Republic of Korea Ministry of Unification
SEOUL, May 3 (UPI) -- South Korea says a North Korea request for the repatriation of 13 defectors who fled a state-run restaurant in China should be discussed at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
North Korea had reportedly sent a letter through its representative in Geneva, requesting the repatriation of the 12 waitresses and their manager, according to Seoul's unification ministry spokesman Cho Joon-hyuk.
Parents of the defectors signed the letter, according to Seoul.
"The letter alleges the defectors were abducted to South Korea," Cho said Tuesday. "But as the government has repeatedly pointed out, the North Korean restaurant workers defected in a group according to their own free will."
The defectors left China on valid passports, according to Beijing, and applied for asylum in Bangkok early April.
Cho also pointed out Seoul is urging precaution for South Korean travelers, especially in northeast China, where a South Korean national and missionary went missing on March 28.
According to Seoul, the South Korean Embassy in China and a consulate in the Chinese city of Shenyang have issued advisories for traveling missionaries and journalists.
Security has also been heightened at South Korean missions overseas, Cho said.
North Korea had reportedly said it plans to abduct 120 South Koreans in the near future, and an activist group in Seoul said Monday North Korean agents are responsible for the murder of a Christian pastor who assisted North Korean defectors in China.
The ethnic Korean pastor was a Chinese national. Chinese investigators are holding in custody a possible informant linked to the pastor's disappearance.
Beijing has not confirmed the man's death, but activists said there are many North Korean agents crossing into China to carry out operations.