SEOUL, May 17 (UPI) -- A band of "gangsters" killed a Christian pastor who assisted North Korean defectors in China, according to a source in North Korea.
The incident was an act of "retaliation" for the defection of 13 North Korean restaurant workers in China, the source told South Korean news service Daily NK.
North Korea has claimed the defectors were "dragged" against their will to the South, and that they were "kidnapped" by South Korean intelligence agents.
A South Korean activist group has also said North Korean agents cross into China to track down defectors and their helpers.
The Korean-Chinese pastor Han Chungryeol was the founder of Jangbaek Church in Jilin in 1993. As part of his work, he provided assistance to North Koreans in China.
Activists in the South have said Han was murdered on April 30, less than a month after 12 North Korean waitresses and their manager fled a state-run restaurant in Ningbo.
According to Daily NK's source, North Korea state security is trying to skirt blame for the group defection, and is recruiting thugs and deploying undercover agents posing as defector's relatives and border traders in order to penetrate the activities of human rights activists and missionaries in the region.
North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau is deploying young agents overseas, the source added.
Pyongyang is probably planning to abduct South Korean nationals, particularly those affiliated with the military and the government, as well as human rights activists, so that an exchange could be made for the 13 defectors, the source said.
A South Korean Christian minister has gone missing, and according to a South Korean report, the minister, who was also a defector, could have been kidnapped to North Korea.