North Korean officials in recent cross-border talks demanded the return of a group of women who defected from a restaurant in China in 2016.
Seoul is legally bound to refuse but seemed acutely embarrassed by the demand. Asked for a formal comment on Monday, a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said, “This is a very sensitive time to answer such a question.”
The 12 women escaped their minders at the Ryugyong restaurant in Ningbo in the Chinese province of Zhejiang in April 2016 and boarded a flight to South Korea.
The North also demanded the return of another woman named Kim Ryon-hui, who defected to South Korea by another route but has since asked to go back to the North.
The regime has stressed that there will be no further reunions of families separated by the Korean War without their return.
Unification Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-hyun told reporters, “It’s a matter that will be discussed later as the inter-Korean relations make progress.” He added there was no heated argument about the matter but the two sides agreed to keep talking about it.