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North Koreans in Japan Demand Halt to Sanctions, Intimidation


A de facto spokesman in Tokyo for North Korea says Pyongyang now regards Japan as the most hostile nation in the world. The spokesman also says ethnic Koreans affiliated with the North have increasingly been threatened following Pyongyang's provocative weapons tests this year.

The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, has long been regarded as North Korean's de facto embassy in Japan.

So Chung On, the head of the association's international affairs bureau, told reporters Thursday that since Pyongyang tested a barrage of missiles in July and a nuclear weapon in October, there have been nearly 200 incidents targeting Koreans or their property in Japan.

He says ethnic Koreans have been receiving threatening telephone calls and e-mails, and students of North Korean schools have been physically attacked or verbally abused. He also says North Korean-affiliated facilities have been the targets of arson attacks and vandalism.

So complained that his group's members, many of whom were born in Japan, are under surveillance by public security officials, and he likened them to hostages of the Japanese government.

"The Japanese government is trying to take them as hostages for bargaining with North Korean authorities," said So.

Such rhetoric is likely to find little sympathy among the Japanese. People here still do not believe North Korea has provided full details about the fate of Japanese that Pyongyang admits were kidnapped by its agents during the Cold War.

So, speaking to reporters on Thursday, repeated the North Korean government assertion that all Japanese abducted by North Korea, who are still alive, have been returned to Japan.

Ethnic Koreans in today's Japan are mainly descendants of those forcibly brought here during the first half of the 20th century, when Japan colonized Korea. They are generally divided between those who support South Korea, and those who are linked to the North.

Japan has never established diplomatic relations with North Korea, and Chongryon, So's organization, has long been treated as Pyongyang's quasi-official representation here.

Some one hundred Koreans, allied with Pyongyang, began a sit-in Wednesday in front of Japan's parliament. They are demanding Tokyo lift punitive sanctions imposed on North Korea in wake of last month's nuclear test.

So defended that test, which provoked international condemnation and prompted a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions. So said he hoped the North Korean nuclear weapon would lead to the abolishment of all such weapons worldwide.

He said the sanctions have caused inconvenience for Koreans wanting to travel to and from North Korea. But he told reporters North Korea itself has been little affected, because the government foresaw declining trade with Japan as far back as 2002, when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il first admitted his forces had kidnapped Japanese citizens.

So says since that time, North Korea has taken its business elsewhere.

"They changed the route," added So. "They developed the route for other countries, including China, South Korea, Russia or Western Europe."

Chongryon operates schools, financial institutions, newspapers and other business enterprises in Japan. The group once held strong ideological sway over hundreds of thousands of Koreans in Japan, but with more Koreans integrating into Japanese society and becoming disillusioned with Pyongyang, the organization's influence has been declining.

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