News / Asia

Japan Prime Minister Vows to Resolve Decades Old Abductions by North Korea

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (File Photo)
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (File Photo)

Japan's prime minister is expressing his intention to visit North Korea to help resolve the long-standing issue of Japanese citizens abducted over the decades by North Korean agents.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spent one hour on Saturday with relatives of citizens abducted by North Korean agents over the decades.  He informed them that he considers the cases an urgent matter and will go to North Korea if that leads to progress.

Mr. Noda informed the families that he told President Barack Obama during a meeting last month in New York that he wants the help of other nations to resolve this issue, which the prime minister says he is making a priority of his administration.

Mr. Noda says he wants more than ever to try to resolve the issue of the kidnappings. And he wants to do his utmost to get those who may still be alive back with their families in Japan.

It is the second meeting the prime minister has had with the families since he took office early last month.

Shuichi Ichikawa was among those North Korea admitted kidnapping. But Pyongyang claims he died of a heart attack in a drowning incident and that his body cannot be returned because a flood subsequently washed away his grave. The Ishikawa family has never accepted that explanation.

Shuichi's brother, Kenichi, says he has heard previous Japanese leaders vow to get to the bottom of the matter with the North Koreans.

Ishikawa says he wants Prime Minister Noda to go beyond the promises of his predecessors who also said they would do their best. Mr. Noda, he
stresses, must actually accomplish something.

According to officials, Keiko Arimoto was abducted in 1983 at the age of 23 by a terrorist group, the Japanese Red Army,  with North Korean support.

North Korea has said she died five years later in a coal gas heater poisoning and her body was washed away in a 1995 landslide.

Arimoto's mother, Kayoko, after the meeting with Prime Minister Noda said she is still hoping and praying.

Arimoto says she wants to see the issue resolved while she and the other elderly parents and siblings are still alive.

A major breakthrough occurred in 2002 when then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to Pyongyang. North Korea admitted abducting 13 Japanese citizens and allowed five of them to return the following month.

Activists contend that North Korea, mainly in the 1970's and 80's, abducted dozens of Japanese. Some were forced to teach Japanese language and culture to spies. Rights groups say some of the older abductees were apparently killed so that their identities could be adopted by North Korean agents.

The unresolved issue of the kidnappings has prevented Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalizing relations.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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