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Five Japanese Abducted by North Korea To Go Home - 2002-10-14

Five Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea will arrive in Japan Tuesday for a short visit. It will be their first trip back to their homeland in more than two decades.

Japan is preparing for an emotional homecoming Tuesday. The five known survivors of at least 13 people kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s and 1980s will return to Japan for one to two weeks.

On the eve of their arrival, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says the homecoming is dominating his thoughts and he hopes the family reunions will help clarify uncertainties surrounding the fate of the abductees and events related to their kidnappings.

The issue for years has been one of the main stumbling blocks to Japan and North Korea establishing diplomatic relations.

The breakthrough came last month, when Prime Minister Koizumi traveled to Pyongyang for a summit, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted for the first time that his nation had kidnapped the 13 Japanese to teach spies the language and culture. The admission has cleared the way for Tokyo and hardline, communist North Korea to reopen talks on establishing diplomatic ties later this month. But the news, which came after years of denials, stunned the Japanese nation.

The returnees are all in their 40s and will make the journey to Japan without their six children, in a move that Japanese relatives have condemned.

Tamotsu Chimura, the father of one abductee, says it is ridiculous for Pyongyang to stop the children from leaving North Korea and that he feels they are being left behind as hostages.

The relatives want to keep the visits as private as possible and have asked the media not to hound them.

After a reunion with their families at the airport, the abductees and their relatives will stay in Tokyo and then head to their hometowns where they will meet with friends and undergo medical exams.

The government will cover all of their expenses, and says it will consider their wishes before questioning them about their abductions.