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S. Korean Film Director, Former North Abductee Dies

A well-known South Korean film director, who said he spent nine years as a captive of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, has died. News of Shin Sang-ok's death coincides with the announcement that the husband of an abducted Japanese woman was apparently also a South Korean kidnapped by the North.

Family members of Shin Sang-ok say he passed away Tuesday night at the age of 80, after a long illness.

Shin was one of the leading cinematic voices in post-World War II South Korea. He often tested the limits of this country's conservative social values, and his 1958 feature, "Jiokhwa," or "Flower in Hell," contained South Korea's first ever on-screen kiss.

But many South Koreans remember Shin best for the nine years he spent as a captive in North Korea. Shin said he and his wife, a well-known film actress, were kidnapped in Hong Kong in 1978 by North Korean agents.

Pyongyang's former policy of abducting South Koreans, Japanese and individuals from several other countries is again in the news this week.

Japanese authorities announced Tuesday that DNA tests indicate the husband of a Japanese woman abducted in the late 1970's is "almost certainly" a South Korean named Kim Young-nam - himself an abductee. South Korea's Foreign Ministry says it will work with Japan to confirm the DNA tests.

At a press conference in Seoul Wednesday, Kim Young Nam's 78-year-old mother, Choi Gye-wol, made a tearful plea for a reunion with her son, who is believed to be still alive in the North. She says she would be grateful if the North Korean authorities would let her see her son before she dies.

Family groups here say that more than 400 South Koreans have been kidnapped by the North since the end of the 1950's Korean War. Japan says at least 15 of its nationals were abducted by North Korean agents in the late 1970's and early 1980's - and privately, Japanese officials say they believe the abductees number in the dozens.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted to the Japanese prime minister in 2002 that 11 Japanese nationals had been kidnapped by his agents, and that number was later raised to 13. The North Koreans said eight of the 13 had died, and Mr. Kim eventually allowed the remaining five and their families to return to Japan.

The Japanese, however, do not believe that Pyongyang has revealed the full truth about the abductions. They have demanded more information, and have refused Pyongyang's request for the establishment of diplomatic relations until the issue is fully resolved.

Most of the Japanese were kidnapped to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean spies.

Shin Sang-ok, the late film director, said Kim Jong Il paid him lavishly in the 1980's to make movies in the communist style.

Shin said he made pro-communist films for the sake of survival, while plotting how to get away. He and his wife finally did escape North Korean custody during a 1986 trip to Vienna.

South Korean authorities have begun to address the abduction issue with Pyongyang. But in line with their general policy towards the North, they have refrained from taking a confrontational stance, to avoid endangering inter-Korean cooperation.