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Ministry resumes probe into defector groups after virus-caused suspension

North Korea 18:37 September 10, 2020

SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry has resumed its controversial audit of North Korean defector groups after the audit was put on hold for weeks due to worries over a resurgence of the new coronavirus, sources said Thursday.

The probe was launched into dozens of activist groups, including those run by North Korean defectors, in July after some of them defied the government's appeal not to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets amid concerns such activity could heighten tensions and endanger people in border regions.

The ministry has claimed that the probe is aimed solely at determining whether the groups are operating as declared. Critics, however, have said that it is targeting defector groups in order to rein them in.

The probe was carried out until mid-August before being put on hold in recent weeks as the government tightened social distancing in the face of a spike in coronavirus infections.

Late on Thursday, the ministry sent officials to a North Korean defector group to inspect its operation. It tried to conduct a probe into another organization but it didn't come through due to its late-minute rejection, according to sources.

A civic group official said that the probe was resumed without prior notice and criticized the ministry for going against the government's move to tighten social distancing intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A ministry official rebutted the claims, saying that such inspection is executed with prior consultation and that the officials sent for Thursday's probe wore masks and strictly followed other antivirus measures.


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