May 14 (UPI) -- A pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan is calling for the repatriation of the 12 North Korean waitresses and their manager brought to the South in 2016.
The Choson Sinbo issued the statement Monday, less than a week after the North Korean manager Heo Kang-il told South Korean television network JTBC they were victims of a South Korea government "luring and kidnapping" during the term of jailed President Park Geun-hye.
The Japan-based publication described the group escape of North Korean restaurant workers from China's Zhejiang Province as an "abduction incident" and called for the return of the North Koreans to their families during a planned inter-Korea family reunion in August.
The newspaper also called for the return of Kim Ryen-hi, the North Korean woman in the South who has claimed she was abducted to the South by intelligence agents.
Kim has been interviewed by The New York Times but has been mostly shunned by the local South Korean press.
In Seoul on Monday, the progressive lawyers' group Minbyun held a press conference, calling for the truth to be revealed regarding the "kidnapping" of the North Koreans, SP News reported.
The group targeted the former Park administration for past actions taken and condemned Seoul's spy agency for banning the North Koreans from attending a court interrogation, according to the report.
The Minbyun task force and a second group of activists also claimed the unification ministry and the national intelligence service recently tried to stop JTBC from airing the interviews.
Not all the waitresses are in favor of returning to the North.
A South Korean restaurateur familiar with the group told YTN last week his friends are "losing sleep" following the inter-Korea summit on April 27.
They are afraid of being repatriated in the wake of rapidly changing politics, Kuk Ok-hyeon said.
Choson Sinbo is published by the General Association of Korean Residents, a pro-North Korea representative body that also serves as Pyongyang's de facto embassy in Tokyo.