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    Japan, US Increase Pressure on North Korea Over Abductions

    Japan and the United States are trying to increase pressure on North Korea to provide full details about the fate of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang during the Cold War.

    The pressure here came Friday in the form of sanctions legislation submitted to parliament by Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party.

    LDP acting secretary-general, Ichiro Aisawa, says the bill mandates sanctions on Pyongyang unless it resolves the issue of the fate of Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970's and '80's.

    Aisawa calls submission of the legislation very timely in applying international pressure on North Korea because relatives of the Japanese abductees are in Washington discussing the issue with U.S. government officials and lawmakers.

    Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korea in 1977 when she was 13, has become the symbol of the Japanese abductees. Her mother, Sakie Yokota, testified Thursday before a committee of the U.S House of Representatives, saying she believes her daughter and other abductees are still alive in North Korea, but time is running out to save them.

    North Korea has admitted abducting Megumi Yokota, but contends she later died. Japan has rejected evidence submitted by Pyongyang that Megumi is dead, including remains that turned out to be those of someone else.

    Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe, told reporters Friday that Japan will do whatever it can to bring back Megumi and any other abductees who may still be alive.

    Abe says he is convinced that testimony about the matter in the U.S. Congress will lead to the international community applying more pressure on North Korea.

    The abduction issue is an emotional one in Japan, and has been the key obstacle to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.

    Relatives of the abductees and some lawmakers have been pushing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for many months to impose sanctions on North Korea, but until now, Mr. Koizumi has resisted.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il acknowledged to Mr. Koizumi in 2002 that his country had abducted 13 Japanese, but he said that all but five had died. Those five were returned to Japan that same year.

    Activists here say the number of Japanese abducted by North Korea may actually be in the hundreds.

    Republican Congressman Ed Royce was among the U.S. lawmakers to meet the abductees' family members in Washington, and he voiced his support.

    "Most important are the voices of the family members of those who have been abducted, and we thank you for speaking out," he said. "We will work with you to try to resolve this horrible, horrible situation."

    Japanese media report that President Bush is expected to meet with some of the family members.


    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

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