Days after abruptly canceling a historic and highly-anticipated meeting between Seoul and Pyongyang, the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) is now demanding that South Korea return twelve waitresses who defected to the south from a North Korean state-run restaurant in Ningbo, China, in 2016.
The subject of intense debate when the matter first occurred, Pyongyang insists that the serving staff were kidnapped from their workplace while Seoul has consistently reported the defectors own testimony of free-will escape from a life of no hope and constant dictatorship.
The issue reboiled over recently following a new version of the events offered by Pyongyang in which the restaurant manager where the hapless servers toiled now states that he lied to the workers and instead blackmailed them into their defection — all while obeying direct orders from Seoul's US-backed spy agency.
Whether the twelve women are repatriated may compromise ongoing negotiations between Seoul and Pyongyang, according to a Saturday statement from the North's state-run KCNA news agency.
"The South Korean authorities should […] send our women citizens to their families without delay and thus show the will to improve North-South ties," read the KCNA news release.
The meeting cancellation and renewed demands by Pyongyang for the return of defectors flies in the face of a meeting last month between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in which both promised to pursue peace and denuclearization.
An upcoming summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore next month follows a rapid shift from last year's saber-rattling, in which North Korea and the US traded high-school-level insults alongside threats of nuclear devastation.
After last week's joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington, Pyongyang has "indefinitely" postponed negotiations with the South and has also threatened to cancel the summit between Trump and Kim.