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North Korean waitress missing

Pyongyang Friendship restaurant in Siem Reap, where a North Korean waitress has gone missing
Pyongyang Friendship restaurant in Siem Reap, where a North Korean waitress has gone missing. Thik Kaliyann

North Korean waitress missing

A North Korean national working at a Siem Reap restaurant has been missing since Tuesday, police said yesterday, though foul play isn’t suspected, and South Korean and Cambodian officials say that they have received no word of a North Korean wishing to defect.

Chao Mao Vireak, chief of immigration police in Siem Reap said yesterday that on Wednesday a representative of Pyongyang Friendship restaurant in Svay Dangkum commune filed a missing-persons report for 21-year-old waitress Ri Suhyang, who was last seen on Tuesday around 9:30am.

“She told the boss that she was going out for a while, but then disappeared,” Mao Vireak said. “She left by herself, and didn’t even bring her iPhone 4 with her.”

Police are now disseminating word of the disappearance to every police station in the province, he continued, and providing photos of Ri and copies of her passport, which was being held by her employer.

“We also reported it to the national general commissariat,” Mao Vireak said. “We are worried about her safety, and investigating this case carefully.”

However, he added, “I can say that it’s not abduction,” noting that Ri may have been involved with a man.

A man at Pyongyang Friendship restaurant who identified himself as the manager yesterday confirmed Ri’s disappearance, but declined to comment further, and it remains unclear whether Pyongyang Friendship is directly linked to the North Korean government or its global chain of Pyongyang Traditional Restaurants.

A restaurant employee who answered the phone yesterday evening said the establishment was owned by a “North Korean company”, though the pariah state is known to maintain control of almost all enterprise.

North Koreans have attempted to defect in Cambodia in the past, as in 2004, when seven asylum seekers were arrested here. Amid international pressure, the asylum seekers were ultimately sent to South Korea, despite Cambodia’s historically cosy relationship with the hermit kingdom.

It remained unclear yesterday as to whether Ri’s disappearance could have been a defection. An official with the South Korean Embassy said he had no knowledge of the case and refused to comment further.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, likewise, said he had no idea as to whether the government had been approached for asylum, and referred all questions about the protocols regarding such a situation to the Ministry of Interior.

Neither a spokesman for the ministry nor the North Korean Embassy could be reached yesterday. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE AND THIK KALIYANN

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