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Fact Finding Mission on Japanese Abductees Raises Many Questions - 2002-10-02

A Japanese delegation returned from North Korea with disturbing information about several Japanese citizens who were abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970's and 1980's. The fact-finding mission appears to have raised more questions than answers about the kidnapping victims.

North Korean officials told Japanese investigators in Pyongyang that a Japanese woman abducted in 1977 committed suicide in a mental hospital where she was being treated for depression.

They say that another is alive and married to a former U.S. serviceman who defected in 1965.

That man is thought to be Charles Robert Jenkins, a former Army sergeant. A spokesman for the U.S. military in South Korea says that in 1996, the Pentagon confirmed Mr. Jenkins was alive in North Korea.

Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe released those and other revelations Wednesday, following the return of a fact-finding team to Pyongyang. The team spent four days in North Korea.

Mr. Abe says the delegates were able to talk to some of the Japanese people who were abducted and now live in North Korea. They also visited the area were some of the dead Japanese had been buried, and had the full cooperation of the North.

At last month's summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Mr. Kim admitted that North Korean agents had kidnapped around 13 Japanese citizens. They were used to train North Korean spies.

Pyongyang says five are still living and that the rest died of illness or in accidents.

The Japanese investigators report that they met with the survivors, but that all were reluctant to say when they will return to Japan to visit their families.

Mr. Abe also says North Korea claims that seven of the eight graves of the Japanese who died were destroyed in a flood.

Angry relatives of the kidnapping victims denounced the report Wednesday, saying they do not believe Pyongyang's explanations.

Prime Minister Koizumi says he will continue with plans to improve relations with Pyongyang despite the doubts over when and how the eight abductees perished. The two nations plan to reopen long-stalled talks on normalizing relations later this month.