Japanese Abductees to Return Home
Oct. 09, 2002
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TOKYO (AP) _ After nearly a quarter century, five Japanese abducted by spies to North Korea will be allowed to return home next week for a brief visit, officials and relatives of the victims said Wednesday.
The five are among at least 13 Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s and taken to the secretive communist country to train spies in Japanese language and culture. They are the only ones known to be alive.
The five _ two men and three women now in their mid 40s _ will be allowed to return next Tuesday for one or two weeks, but will not be allowed to bring their children, said Shoichi Nakagawa, head of a lawmakers' group supporting the families of the abductees.
Ending years of denial, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted in an unprecedented summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 17 that the Japanese were indeed kidnapped by ``elements in the military.''
After being taken to the North, the survivors married and are said to have children. Some survivors' families were angry the children would not be allowed to return.
``They should come back with the entire family. Leaving behind the kids _ my grandchildren _ is like leaving behind hostages,'' said Tamotsu Chimura, father of Yasushi Chimura, who was abducted in July 1978.
Toru Hasuike, whose brother is among the five survivors, said details of how the visit would be conducted were still being worked out.
``The government wanted to get our opinions on this matter,'' he said. ``Some of us said we were concerned about the children not being allowed to return, but we decided to accept the plan.''
Kim's admission opened the way for the two countries to restart talks on normalizing diplomatic relations. Officials from the two sides are expected to meet Oct. 29-30 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the abduction issue would be given priority, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Wednesday.
But Japan's government has been under intense pressure from the families _ and public opinion _ to bring the five home as soon as possible.
Although Koizumi got an immediate boost in support ratings after the summit, polls now indicate many Japanese feel it is too soon to go ahead with normalization talks and want to see the abduction issue completely resolved first.
That appeared to be a distant goal.
On Tuesday, Japan added four more people to the list of Japanese citizens it says were abducted by North Korea, bringing the total to 15. North Korea has admitted abducting all but two of the 15, but support groups say the real number of abductees is much higher, with estimates of 50 or 60.
In an effort to shed more light on the circumstances of the kidnappings, police hope to question two returning abductees, Chimura and Fukie Yamamoto, when they return to their hometown in central Japan, said Yoshihiro Terao, an official from Fukui Prefectural (state) Police's public safety division.
North Korea's previous denials were a stumbling block in efforts by the two sides to establish diplomatic ties. Talks two years ago broke down after the North's delegation angrily denied any role in the abductions.
Kim's acknowledgment was seen as a major breakthrough, and a welcome sign of openness from North Korea's isolated and enigmatic regime.
Even so, the North's statement last month that eight of the 13 Japanese kidnap victims had died _ some under mysterious circumstances _ prompted demands from the victims' families that Tokyo delay the resumption of normalization talks.
Officials had initially suggested that relatives of the survivors travel to North Korea to visit them, but the families balked at that, saying the abductees would not be able to freely talk.