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South Korea refuses to send back 12 North Korean defectors

By Jennie Oh
South Korea refuses to send back 12 North Korean defectors
A file picture dated 02 June 2016 shows North Korean waitresses serving guests at a North Korean-run restaurant in Beijing, China.12 North Korean women who worked in a North Korean restaurant in China defected to the South two monts earlier. File Photo by EPA/Wu Hong.

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Seoul says it will not repatriate a group of North Korean defectors who escaped through China two years ago, Chosun Ilbo reported.

This comes amid reports that the North requested the return of the 12 defectors, during last week's high-level talks, as a condition for talks on holding reunions between families separated by the 1930-53 Korean War.

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Seoul's Unification Ministry said Tuesday that the defectors cannot be sent back to the North as they came of their own free will and have adjusted well to life in South Korea.

The women worked in a North Korean restaurant in China before they defected in April 2016. Pyongyang insisted they were lured and abducted by the South which, in turn, said the mass defection had been voluntary.

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In addition to discussing the North's Olympic participation, Seoul has been eager to touch on pending inter-Korean issues such as the resumption of family reunions and holding military talks to defuse tensions on the peninsula.

However, the South's chief envoy to a working-level meeting on Wednesday, expects the talks to stay focused on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung said Tuesday that it was not easy for the two Koreas to discuss a variety of issues within a single session, according to Yonhap.

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He said the talks are likely to focus on details regarding the other members of the North Korean delegation, including athletes and their cheering squad, and high-level officials.

During a prior working-level meeting, the South and North confirmed that an orchestra of 140 members would visit and perform the South next month as part of the Olympic delegation.

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