Sun, May 23, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Koizumi secures release of relatives of abductees during trip to North Korea

FREEDOM Eight relatives of Japanese abducted by the communist regime will be allowed to go home under a deal reached between Kim Jong-il and Junichiro Koizumi


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed yesterday to let all eight relatives of Japanese abducted decades ago leave the communist state and five will be reunited with their parents in Tokyo later in the day, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said after a summit meeting.

Kim also pledged to work for a nuclear-arms-free Korean peninsula and a peaceful solution to a crisis over the North's nuclear programs through multilateral talks, Koizumi told a news conference in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.

"We must normalize our abnormal ties," Koizumi said. "It is in the interests of both countries to change our hostile relation into a friendly one, our confrontational ties into cooperative ties. That is why I went to North Korea a second time."

The five abductees were ordinary young adults when they were snatched from their home towns a quarter of a century ago and taken to North Korea to help train spies.

They came back to Japan in October 2002, a month after Koizumi's first landmark summit with Kim, but had to leave behind their seven North Korean-born children, aged 16 to 22.

One of the returned abductees, Hitomi Soga, is married to a former US army sergeant, Charles Robert Jenkins, who also stayed behind in North Korea with their two daughters.

Koizumi said these four could meet in Beijing to discuss their future because Jenkins, who the US says deserted 40 years ago, is worried he would be turned over to the US authorities if he came to Japan.

US Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker congratulated Koizumi on the outcome of the summit, but made no reference to Jenkins.

"While there may be many aspects of this strange and heart wrenching story that remain unresolved and untold, I think now is a time to extend our warmest sympathies to the former abductees and their families and to renew our determination that this kind of behavior can never be tolerated," he said in a statement.

Koizumi agreed that Japan would provide impoverished North Korea with 250,000 tonnes of food aid and US$10 million of medical supplies.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the talks marked "an important and historic event in restoring the confidence, improving the relations between the two countries and promoting peace and stability in Asia and the rest of the world."

A breakthrough in the emotional dispute over the abductees could boost Koizumi's popularity ahead of a July election for parliament's Upper House.

But questions over the future of Soga's family and the fate of other abductees Pyongyang says are dead left many in Japan dissatisfied.

Kim stunned the world at his first meeting with Koizumi in 2002 when he admitted to the kidnapping of 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea said eight of those were dead.

Japan says North Korea has kidnapped at least 15 Japanese and wants a convincing account of the fate of the other 10, including Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was abducted in 1977.

Koizumi said that Kim had agreed to a reinvestigation with Japanese participation, but relatives back in Tokyo were upset.

"This the worst result. I thought it natural that the eight would come ... I feel betrayed," said Megumi's father, Shigeru Yokota.

In a declaration signed by Koizumi and Kim at their last meeting, Kim pledged to uphold international treaties on nuclear issues and to extend a moratorium on ballistic missile launches.

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