SEOUL, July 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's human rights watchdog said Sunday it plans to conduct a probe into a group defection by North Korean restaurant workers in 2016 amid allegations that some of them were duped into coming to the South.
The National Human Rights Commission said it has decided to investigate the case to determine if they came to the South voluntarily or if a state agency was illegally involved in the defection.
Along with a male manager, twelve North Korean women who worked at a restaurant, in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo, defected to South Korea in April 2016.
North Korea has called for their repatriation, claiming that they were lured and abducted by Seoul's spy agency. The South Korean government has dismissed the North's claim, saying they defected of their own free will.
But the defection has remained a source of simmering controversy, after the manager and some of the workers claimed that they were threatened and lured into the defection.
The watchdog has been looking into the case after a group of progressive lawmakers filed a petition. It recently decided to conduct an ex officio investigation, given the need to expand the scope of its probe and the gravity of the case.
"The probe into the case was limited as the relevant authorities were not cooperative," the watchdog said. "We hope for their active cooperation down the road."
The government under then President Park Geun-hye took the unusual step of publicly announcing the defection, saying that the defection was the result of tough international sanctions on North Korea.
Earlier this month, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, called for a through and independent investigation into the case, saying that at least some of the North Koreans appear to be "victims" of a scam.
Source: Yonhap News Agency