Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Members of a group of North Korean waitresses who fled a Pyongyang-run restaurant in China sent a condolence wreath to the funeral parlor of Kim Bok-dong, the former "comfort woman" who died late Monday.
Kim, who had repeatedly called on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to apologize directly to women forced to serve in wartime brothels, battled cancer and was hospitalized, Newsis reported.
A ribbon on the wreath from the North Korean women read, "From every member of Ryugyong restaurant waitress group," according to the report.
An activist with the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan confirmed a special relationship between the waitresses and Kim.
"Some of the waitresses would come to the [comfort women's] shelter to volunteer, and began to forge ties with Grandmother Kim," the source said, adding that about three or four waitresses, out of the 12 who defected, were involved in volunteer activities.
The defectors also came to pay tribute to Kim at the funeral parlor, the activist said.
Following the waitresses' defection in April 2016, the group became the center of controversy, after their manager Heo Kang-il, and three of the women, said they were the victims of a South Korea government-sanctioned "luring and kidnapping."
The defection took place during a previous South Korean administration. The current administration of President Moon Jae-in has maintained the group defected of their own free will.
The issue of comfort women and a 2015 fund, transferred from a non-governmental Japanese source, has caused tensions between Japan and South Korea.
Some of the survivors have declined the compensation because of its private origins.
On Tuesday, Moon visited Kim's memorial, and said he would do his "utmost" to help the remaining Korean comfort women, according to the JoongAng Ilbo.
In the funeral guest book, Moon wrote to the deceased, "Fly away like a butterfly," and signed his name.
South Korea dissolved the comfort women fund in November.