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Japan Kidnap Victims May Stay Longer

October 22, 2002

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TOKYO (AP) _ Five Japanese who returned home for the first time since being abducted by North Korean spies decades ago may stay longer than originally planned, officials said Tuesday.

The five, the only known survivors of at least 13 Japanese kidnapped in the 1970s and 80s, arrived last week for what was expected to be a stay of one or two weeks.

But officials on Tuesday said the visit may be extended if the abductees want to stay.

``Nothing has been decided yet in concrete terms,″ said Harumi Kumagai, an official with the Cabinet office handling the five abductees’ trip. Kumagai said officials would discuss the matter with the five and then set a date.

The return of the five to Japan was made possible after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suddenly confessed last month that the North’s agents had indeed carried out the abductions.

The confession confirmed suspicions Japan held for years, and was seen as a major political coup for Koizumi.

But the handling of the homecoming has raised new questions.

Many in Japan, including the relatives of the five survivors, criticized the North for not allowing the five to return permanently, and for forcing them to leave behind their children.

The five abductees include two couples _ Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, and Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo _ who married in North Korea and raised children there. The fifth victim, Hitomi Soga, married an American who is listed as a deserter from the U.S. Army and also has two children in the North.

The returnees have made only brief remarks since arriving in Japan last Tuesday, shedding little light on why they were kidnapped or what they did in the years immediately afterward.

But, responding to what he called erroneous reports in the local media, Hasuike said the North never imposed a time limit on the homecoming and said the decision to leave the children behind was their own.

Even so, Chimura’s father told reporters Tuesday the five are not free to make comments that might anger the North, or to express their true wishes regarding where they want to live in the future.

``With their children still in North Korea, like hostages, it is a mistake for our government to ask them whether they want to stay longer or go back,″ said Tamotsu Chimura, whose son, Yasushi, was abducted with fiance Fukie Hamamoto in 1978.