Two Japanese men detained in North Korea 10 months ago have returned home, a Japanese minister said yesterday, adding it could be a “positive” diplomatic sign from the reclusive state.
The two arrived back in Japan this week, National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara said.
“I think this could be taken as a positive message from North Korea,” he told reporters.
Police declined to comment on whether the two paid any money or why they were released.
The men, reportedly in their 30s and 40s, were detained in a special economic zone near the communist state’s border with Russia. They returned via China.
Japan has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, and relations remain strained by Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and the North’s kidnapping of Japanese nationals in the Cold War era.
Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who died last month, admitted in 2002 that agents had abducted Japanese nationals, but said the issue had been solved with the return of five victims and their spouses and offspring.
The North has said others who were kidnapped had died, although Japan believes some abductees are still alive.
Three Japanese men had initially been taken into detention in March last year, but one of them, who was in his 80s, was freed and returned to Japan in April, Jiji Press news agency and public broadcaster NHK said.
Reports said the three men were employees of a machine maintenance firm in Tokyo, who had visited Rason City near North Korea’s border with Russia in March to check machines at a food manufacturing factory.
They were reportedly detained on charges of hiding drugs in canned goods for export to China and currency counterfeiting.