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UN Human Rights Specialist Calls on N. Korea to Give Full Story of Japanese Abductees


The United Nations' specialist on North Korean human rights is calling for Pyongyang to provide full details about the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents. The appeal came as a Japanese official indicated that the number of abductees is far higher than the 17 officially recognized so far. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, says the time has come for Pyongyang to tell what really happened to Japanese it kidnapped during the Cold War.

Vitit, who met earlier in Tokyo Wednesday with relatives of some of the abductees, says the issue has been discussed enough by officials and international groups, and North Korea should now respond.

"If we listen to the families of the abductees, what they want very logically is results," he said. "We have many declarations, we have many conferences, but they want results."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted in 2002 that his agents had abducted 13 Japanese during the 1970's and '80s. The abductees were used to teach North Korean agents about Japanese language and culture.

Mr. Kim allowed five Japanese to return home, but said the other eight had died. Japan has so far identified 17 people as abductees, but activists maintain that the number is far higher - and the Japanese government might now be ready to agree.

Japan's ambassador for human rights, Fumiko Saiga, on Tuesday said there were probably an additional 30 abductees. Saiga's remark, during a keynote speech to a conference on the abductions, was the first reference by a government official to a higher number.

The U.N.'s Vitit spoke to the same conference on Wednesday. The conference is taking place less than a week before six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are to resume in Beijing, and Japan has insisted that the abductee issue be raised during those talks.

Tokyo has been criticized for raising what some consider an unrelated matter, and North Korea says it has told all there is to tell. Vitit, however, says he hopes the negotiators do find a way to raise the issue of the abductions, and human rights in North Korea in general.

"Primarily, the six-party talks are about nuclear issues, but it does not have to neglect totally the human rights concerns," he said. " There may be space for incorporating elements of human rights in the discourses.

Vitit also criticized countries sharing a border with North Korea who push refugees back into North Korea - a clear reference to China, where hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled in recent years.

He also said states that have strong influence in Pyongyang - another reference to China - need to put more pressure on North Korea not to persecute asylum-seekers who are returned home. Pyongyang regards such people as criminals, and they are reported to suffer persecution and imprisonment when returned.

Vitit's mandate on North Korea was established two years ago by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. He is currently preparing his second report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, but North Korea has refused his repeated requests to visit the communist state.