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Japanese Woman Seeks Asylum in North Korea - 2003-10-28

For years, North Koreans have sought asylum outside their impoverished country. But now the Pyongyang government is saying that a Japanese woman has gone the other way and is seeking asylum in North Korea.

Pyongyang says a Japanese woman entered North Korea seeking asylum. The Japanese foreign ministry is confirming North Korea's statement, but says it does not believe the act was politically motivated.

The official Korean Central News Agency identified the woman Tuesday as Kazumi Kitagawa, saying she is asking for asylum after entering the country illegally while on a sightseeing tour to a third country.

Japanese media say that in late August, the woman swam from China into North Korea across the Yalu River near the border.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry says North Korea told Japan about the woman, but chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda would not confirm the woman's identity, saying Japan considers it a matter of privacy. Japanese media say the woman named by North Korea visited Japan's consulate in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang in April, saying she wanted to defect to North Korea and asking how to do it. Diplomats at that time, according to the reports, dissuaded her from carrying out her wish.

It is unclear whether North Korea will accept the woman's request for asylum.

Japan and North Korea have no official diplomatic relations. Attempts to normalize relations suffered a setback last year when Pyongyang admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese people in the 1970s and 1980s.