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Emotional Reunion Ends Decades Apart for South Korean Mother and Allegedly Abducted Son

  • Kurt Achin

South Koreans have been watching emotional video images of a family reunion 28 years in the making. For the first time since 1978, an elderly South Korean woman has embraced a son believed to have been abducted as a teenager by North Korea. The reunion is being carefully watched for possible information about other suspected abductees.

Choi Gye-wol, a South Korean woman in her late 70s, was already in tears as she departed Wednesday for North Korea.

But the floodgates of emotion were really flung open when Choi saw her son, Kim Young-nam, for the first time in 28 years.

It is not an unusual sight here, relatives from the two Koreas, still divided by hostility 53 years after the Korean War ended, greeting each other tearfully during brief reunions on the Northern side of the border.

But this particular reunion, and the process that led up to it, are receiving heightened international attention, because Kim Young-nam is believed to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents when he was a teenager. He disappeared from a South Korean beach in 1978.

Choi and Kim might never have reunited had it not been for Kim's wife, an abductee from Japan named Megumi Yokota. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 that Yokota was among 13 Japanese citizens abducted by the North in the late 1970s and early '80s. Pyongyang allowed five of them to return home with their families, but the North Koreans said the other eight, including Yokota, were dead.

Yokota has become a symbol in Japan of the missing abductees, and in April, the Japanese government announced that DNA tests showed that the man reunited Wednesday with his mother, Kim Young-nam, was likely Yokota's husband.

Pyongyang does not admit kidnapping Kim or any of some 500 other South Koreans that Seoul says the North has abducted. But earlier this month, the North announced that it had "located" Kim Young-nam, and would allow him and his mother to meet.

Nobody expects that in North Korea's tightly controlled society, Kim will be allowed to tell his mother what really happened to Yokota, or whether he himself was truly kidnapped.

South Koreans watching the reunion on television Wednesday saw little more than mother and son embracing, and Kim asking his mother why she was crying on such a happy occasion.

Kim is expected to hold a press conference on Thursday, the second day of this three-day reunion with his mother. Abductee groups will be listening closely for any information about Yokota's whereabouts - and any other possible information about other abductees.

The South Koreans and Japanese were kidnapped mainly for use in training Northern spies. Japan believes more than the 13 of its citizens were abducted. Seoul believes about 500 South Korean soldiers continue to be held in the North as prisoners of the 1950s Korean War, in addition to the estimated 500 abductees.

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