Blue House ordered announcement of North Korean group defection

Posted on : 2016-04-11 15:48 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Press conference one day after the 13 North Koreans could be intended to tout effect of sanctions
Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee briefs reporters on the group defection of North Korean restaurant workers
Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee briefs reporters on the group defection of North Korean restaurant workers

The Blue House was behind the South Korean government’s announcement that a group of employees from an overseas North Korean restaurant had defected together, the Hankyoreh confirmed. The announcement was made at a press conference on Apr. 8, just five days before the Apr. 13 general elections.

The Unification Ministry opposed the idea, citing its practice of not announcing defections in order to protect the safety of the defectors and of the family members they left behind them in North Korea, but its contention was ignored.

The announcement was largely intended to consolidate the conservative vote in the upcoming elections by emphasizing how North Korea has been shaken by the government-led sanctions, experts believe.

On Apr. 10, Hankyoreh reporters learned that the press conference about the group defection of 13 employees at an overseas North Korean restaurant had taken place on orders from the Blue House.

“I was told that the briefing at which the Unification Ministry announced the group defection took place suddenly on instructions from the Blue House,” said a senior government official whose remarks were confirmed by others.

“The Unification Ministry opposed the idea of announcing the group’s defection because it would endanger the safety of family members in North Korea and because it went against the government‘s practice of not publicizing defections, but these arguments were not accepted,” the official said.

Indeed, the Unification Ministry spokesperson’s press conference about the group defection was not on the schedule, and reporters covering the beat were only notified 30 minutes in advance.

Considering that the employees from the overseas North Korean restaurant only arrived in South Korea on Apr. 7, it was highly irregular for their defection to be announced in an emergency press conference the very next day.

Generally speaking, when North Koreans overseas request protection from the South Korean government, they are initially housed at a government facility in that country until they can be brought into South Korea. After arriving, they are subjected to joint questioning by the National Intelligence Service and other agencies until the government decides whether to offer them protection as defectors. This time, the government went public with their defection before most of this process had taken place.

The announcement of the group defection was a signal for government ministries to aggressively push propaganda designed to get out the conservative vote - even though it was the weekend - by claiming that the government’s tough sanctions against North Korea were starting to pay off.

On Apr. 10, the Unification Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took the unusual step of holding simultaneous closed-door press conferences in relation to the South Korean government’s independent sanctions against North Korea.

“The group defection was the result of our independent sanctions against North Korea,” said a senior official in the Unification Ministry, referring to sanctions that Seoul announced on Mar. 8.

“It is presumed that the sanctions are also having a considerable effect inside North Korea and on the North Korean people. It is conceivable that there could be more group defections. At the same time, this is a critical moment at which North Korea could choose some rash form of provocation such as another nuclear test to protest the pressure it is facing,” the official said.

“Because of the sanctions against North Korea, North Korean vessels are stuck in their ports,” said a senior official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the same time, emphasizing once again the effectiveness of the sanctions against North Korea.

By Kim Jin-cheol, staff reporter

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