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5 Family Members of Japanese Abductees Released by N. Korea - 2004-05-22

Five family members of Japanese abducted by North Korea during the Cold War are on their way to be reunited with their parents in Japan. They boarded a Japanese government plane Saturday evening in Pyonygang, following a 90-minute summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Prime Minister Koizumi said in Pyongyang Saturday, that Mr. Kim had agreed to release all eight relatives of the five abductees who were allowed to return home to Japan in late 2002.

Mr. Koizumi says the five children of four of the abductees would be leaving immediately for Japan. But he said there was a hitch concerning the American husband of one of the abductees, Ms. Hitomi Soga.

Charles Jenkins allegedly deserted his U.S. Army post in South Korea in 1965 and defected to North Korea. He later married Ms. Soga, one of the Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents. Mr. Jenkins faces prosecution by U.S. military authorities if he comes to Japan.

Mr. Koizumi says he spent an hour with Mr. Jenkins in Pyongyang on Saturday but failed to convince him to come to Japan with his two daughters. The Japanese government says it will arrange for a family reunion later in Beijing.

Government officials here say Mr. Koizumi raised Mr. Jenkins' case in a telephone call to President Bush earlier in the week. However, there is no indication the U.S. government agreed to Japan's request for a pardon or other special consideration for Mr. Jenkins.

At the beginning of Saturday's summit, foreign reporters were allowed into the state guesthouse, and were able to listen briefly to Mr. Kim, whose voice has rarely been heard in public.

The North Korean leader told Mr. Koizumi he is glad the prime minister has paid attention to the normalization of diplomatic relations, and made another visit with the will to achieve success in the normalization talks.

It was at the two leaders' first summit that Kim Jong Il made the stunning admission that North Korea had kidnapped Japanese citizens during the Cold War, to train spies in the Japanese language and customs.

He said 13 had been kidnapped, eight of those had since died, and he allowed the remaining five to return to Japan.

At a somber news conference in Tokyo after the summit, the five former abductees all expressed disappointment that Mr. Jenkins would not be coming to Japan, and said despite the imminent return of the five children they were in no mood to celebrate.

Speaking about her own family situation, Ms. Soga says she wants to live with her husband and two daughters in Japan, no matter how long it takes.

In addition to the return of the relatives, the Japanese public was hoping Mr. Koizumi would obtain credible accounts about the fate of other Japanese abductees. Japan says there were more than Mr. Kim has admitted to.

Mr. Koizumi said he received no new information about other abductees Saturday, only a promise from Mr. Kim to reinvestigate their fate.

Resolving the abduction issue has been the major obstacle to more normal relations between the two Asian countries.

The Japanese government announced Saturday it would provide cash-strapped North Korea with 250,000 tons of food and $10 million in medical supplies. Japanese officials had earlier been angered by domestic media reports linking the release of the family members to the delivery of aid.