Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Freed Japanese wish to see families in N. Korea

REUTERS , TOKYO

More than a year after leaving her American husband and two daughters in communist North Korea, Hitomi Soga wonders when she will see them again.

"Clear-blue autumn skies. Going through the skies will take me back to my beloved family. If I had wings or if I were a bird, I could fly and bring them right back with me," she wrote in a poem to express her longing.

Soga, 44, is one of five Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by Pyongyang's agents a quarter-century ago and returned from the secretive communist state in Oct. 2002, leaving their North Korean-born children behind for what was seen as a brief visit.

Her sad tale, along with those of two repatriated couples who also left children behind, has gripped the nation. It has also become a big obstacle blocking Japan from giving aid to cash-strapped North Korea, funds that would be key to any deal to end the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear arms program.

Japan insists it will raise the topic of the abductees and their children at six-party talks on the nuclear dispute starting on Wednesday in Beijing.

Pyongyang says doing so could scuttle the negotiations.

The US, North and South Korea, China, Russia and Japan last met in August, but achieved no breakthrough.

"Japan's position is that there must be a comprehensive solution to the nuclear issue, the abduction issue and other matters of concern," Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said on television yesterday. "If not, there will be no economic cooperation."

Soga and the four other abductees flew to Japan a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted at a historic summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that Pyongyang had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies.

Soga, who has since been treated for lung cancer, and the others appear to have adjusted to life in Japan, sporting stylish clothes and mobile phones, and working at new jobs.

A hoped-for thaw in bilateral ties, however, failed to materialize after the five refused to go back to North Korea, leaving the future of their families in limbo.

Japan insists the abductees' seven North Korean-born children -- now in their teens and twenties -- be allowed to join their parents. It also wants more information on eight other abductees Pyongyang says died of illness, accident or suicide.

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