The Daily Manila Shimbun


Families of abductees in North Koreamarks 20 years amid lack of progress

March 26, 2017

Tokyo- The family members of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and the 1980s are increasingly impatient, having aged without seeing progress over a decade in their bid to be reunited with the victims in the home country.

Before the 20th anniversary of its founding on Saturday, the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, along with its supporters’ group, adopted a campaign policy in February urging the Japanese government to rescue all abduction victims by the end of the year.

It was the first time that a deadline has been set in their demand for government efforts to achieve the return of the abduction victims.

Since North Korea admitted abductions of Japanese nationals and handed over five of them to Japan in 2002, no other victim has been brought back home.

In a statement on the 20th anniversary, the family association, together with its supporters’ group, said, “We can’t find words to describe our frustration and disappointment.”

The association was set up on March 25, 1997, after media reports about testimony on the 1977 abduction of Megumi Yokota, then a 13-year-old junior high school girl in the central Japan city of Niigata.

Yokota’s father, Shigeru, now 84, became the first leader of the association and started a campaign for public support by gathering signatures across Japan.

In September 2002, then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a historic visit to Pyongyang and held talks with then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Kim admitted abductions of Japanese nationals and offered an apology.

Five of the 17 people officially recognized by the Japanese government as abduction victims returned to Japan the following month. But North Korea claimed that eight, including Megumi Yokota, had died, while denying that four, including Kyoko Matsumoto, who disappeared in Tottori Prefecture, western Japan, in 1977 at age 29, had ever entered the reclusive state.

United more than ever, the family group disputed North Korea’s claim of the eight abductees’ deaths and stepped up its campaign for the rescue of all remaining abduction victims.

In November 2007, Shigeo Iizuka, now 78, succeeded Yokota as leader of the family association. He is the elder brother of abductee Yaeko Taguchi, who was spirited away in 1978 at the age of 22.

North Korea agreed in 2008 and 2014 to reopen its investigation into the fate of the Japanese abductees, but the agreements failed to produce any tangible results.

In defiance of international calls for restraint, the hermit state has continued provocations, including missile launches and nuclear tests, leaving a solution to the abduction issue uncertain.

In the new rescue campaign policy, the abductee family association and its supporters’ group, the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, expressed strong anger over the lack of progress toward the return of the victims.

Stressing the advanced ages of the abduction victims and their family members, the policy said no time should not be wasted for the abductees’ rescue. The abductees and their families have already run out of patience, it added.

Of the remaining abduction victims in North Korea, only two--Megumi Yokota and Keiko Arimoto--have both parents alive. Yokota is now 52, while Arimoto, who disappeared in Europe in 1983 when she was 23, is 57.

The family members have never given up their hope of embracing their loved ones in Japan, while combating old age and illnesses. Helped by the supporters’ group, the family association has so far collected about 11.7 million signatures seeking the return of the abduction victims. Jiji Press