SEOUL, Aug. 16 (UPI) — The 12 North Korean waitresses who defected to the South in April have been released from Seoul’s custody, a South Korean government official said Tuesday.
The waitresses have been under investigation since their arrival in South Korea on April 7 and have been permitted to integrate into local society, Yonhap reported.
The waitress’ male manager who had fled with the group, however, was not included in the list of those released from detention.
“The 12 North Korean waitresses, excluding one male manager, have been discharged and allowed to resettle in various parts of South Korean society,” the South Korean government source said.
The source also said the group escaped from Ryugyong restaurant in China in order to enter South Korea.
The Yonhap report did not confirm the status of the manager, nor the reasons why he was not released with the rest of the group.
The decision to release the 12 waitresses may end a protracted conflict over their status between the South Korean government and the local legal community.
South Korean attorneys of the Lawyers for a Democratic Society had questioned the legality of keeping the defectors in custody.
The progressive lawyers had then requested the defectors appear in court and be permitted to speak to legal counsel.
The waitresses never appeared in court in June, and Seoul’s National Intelligence Service had said they were being detained at a “care center.”
The defectors were being placed there to protect their identities and their families in the North, the NIS had stated.