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S. Korea rejects lawyers' bid to contact families of NK restaurant staff

All News 17:28 June 07, 2016

SEOUL, June 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry on Tuesday rejected a request by an association of local lawyers to meet with the family members of the 13 North Koreans who defected en masse in April.

The ministry said that it did not approve the move by the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, or Minbyun, to contact the defectors' family in a third country.

The association of progressive lawyers had also called on Seoul's spy agency to arrange a meeting with the North Korean defectors in a bid to clarify North Korea's claim that they were kidnapped by Seoul. But the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the unification ministry has rejected its demand and made it clear that the restaurant workers entered the country of their own free will.

Lawyers said they seek a meeting with North Korean family members in a third country to secure the necessary legal documents that could allow them to formally start legal proceedings here. The families in the North have requested that the defectors be immediately released from protection offered by South Korea's intelligence agency.

North Korea has persistently claimed that South Korea kidnapped its people, and notified Seoul in late April that it will send their family members to Seoul for a face-to-face meeting.

Pyongyang has even threatened to take strong action against South Korea if Seoul does not accept its demand for a meeting with the family members and their immediate repatriation.

By law, South Koreans must win the government's approval to meet North Koreans in a third country or visit North Korea. The North's consent is required for South Koreans to travel to the communist nation.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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