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Families of N. Korea Abductees Ask to Extend Stay in Japan - 2002-10-23

The families of five Japanese abducted by North Korean spies have petitioned Tokyo to let them stay in Japan until Pyongyang allows their children to visit also. It is unclear whether the kidnapped Japanese, who are now visiting their families, want to permanently return to their homeland.

The Japanese government was non-committal about the petition. Both Japan and North Korea have said that it is up to the five abductees where they want to live.

That decision may not be easy. The abductees all have children who were born and raised in North Korea, and they may not want to uproot their families. Another complicating factor is that one of the kidnapped is married to a former American soldier, who is believed to have defected to North Korea. If he leaves North Korea, the United States may arrest him.

The abductees have expressed mixed emotions on the matter since their return to Japan last week for their first visit in 24 years. Their families, however, made their opinions clear on Wednesday by delivering a letter to a top government official. The letter demands that all of the offspring of the abducted be allowed to visit Japan and that the abductees be allowed to stay in Japan until the matter is resolved.

Yuko Hamamoto, whose brother Fukie was kidnapped and then married another abductee, said at a news conference he will fight to have all the abductees and their children permanently settled in Japan.

Mr. Hamamoto said he never wants his brother and his wife, as well as two other married abductees, to go back to North Korea. He insists that the Japanese government work to have the two couples' children still in North Korea moved to Japan.

The five are the only known survivors of at least 13 Japanese abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and '80s. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted the kidnappings at a summit with the Japanese prime minister a few weeks ago, and Pyongyang allowed the abductees to visit their homes.

While Tokyo has insisted on allowing the abductees to visit, it went along with Pyongyang's decision to keep the children in North Korea. Tokyo has appeared to be reluctant to turn the issue into a tug-of-war over the kidnap victims.