A man who disappeared 28 years ago from a South Korean beach, and recently reappeared in North Korea, denies accusations that he was kidnapped by agents of Pyongyang. In a highly unusual news conference held inside North Korea, Kim Young-nam said he was rescued at sea by a North Korean boat, and stayed in the North voluntarily.
Kim Young-nam says South Korean authorities have it wrong: he was not abducted at the age of 16 to North Korea.
Rather, Kim says, he was rescued from drowning at sea 28 years ago by a North Korean ship. He says the kindness the North Korean sailors showed him completely changed his impression of the communist country.
He made his comments in an unprecedented news conference Thursday at the North Korean resort where the day before, he was reunited with his mother for the first time since his disappearance.
During the news conference, held under strict supervision by North Korean authorities, Kim also said his Japanese wife, Megumi Yokota, had committed suicide in 1994. He said Yokota, who is among 13 Japanese the North Koreans admit to having abducted during the Cold War, was suffering from mental illness.
Kim disappeared from a beach on the South Korean island of Seonyu, approximately 350 kilometers south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
For decades, South Korean authorities and Kim's family insisted he was one of about 500 South Korean civilians kidnapped by North Korean agents since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The North Koreans say any South Koreans in the country are there of their own free will. Kim said Wednesday he has stayed in North Korea voluntarily.
He says because his family in the South was in such a difficult economic situation, he resolved to remain in the North until finishing university. Time went by, he says, and he simply began to build a life in the North.
Kim's statements precisely echo North Korea's official explanations of his disappearance and Yokota's fate - a fact being received with virtually no surprise here in South Korea. No dissent from government opinion or statements is tolerated in the rigidly controlled North, and it is assumed that Kim and his family could face severe punishment if he tried to say otherwise.
While officials in Seoul have not formally responded to Kim's statements, abductee advocacy groups are dismissing them out of hand. In Tokyo, Megumi Yokota's father, Shigeru Yokota, told reporters he did not believe Kim's statements.
Kim's case first drew international attention in April, when Japanese investigators said DNA evidence showed that he and Yokota had had a child together.