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Japanese Abductee's Family Reunion Set for Friday in Jakarta - 2004-07-05

The Japanese government says a family reunion set to take place in Indonesia this week will be a major step towards better relations between Japan and North Korea.

Japan announced on Monday that abductee Hitomi Soga will be reunited Friday in Jakarta with members of her family living in North Korea.

The Japanese woman has been separated from her American husband and their two daughters since she returned to Japan in 2002 for the first time in 24 years. Her husband and daughter remained behind in North Korea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda says the Japanese government will pick up the expenses for their stay in a Jakarta hotel.

Mr. Hosoda says the family will be able to discuss their feelings there and decide what they want to do.

Japan will charter a plane to fly Charles Jenkins, 21-year-old Mika and 18-year-old Belinda from North Korea to Indonesia to see Ms. Soga.

The separation of Ms. Soga from her husband and two daughters has prevented the improvement of ties between Japan and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations.

Ms. Soga was abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 and forced to train spies in the Japanese language and customs. She married Mr. Jenkins, who was living in North Korea, in 1980.

The reunion has been complicated by the fact that the United States lists Mr. Jenkins as a deserter from the Army.

Mr. Jenkins has declined to come to Japan, fearing the government would hand him over to American authorities to face court-martial. And Ms. Soga has rejected Beijing for the reunion, as suggested by Pyongyang and Tokyo, because of the close ties between North Korea and China.

The timing of the reunion has been criticized in Japan because it will take place just days before elections for Japan's Upper House.

Some opposition politicians are accusing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of using the family to help win support for his governing Liberal Democratic Party, which has been lagging behind the opposition Democrats in the polls.