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Relatives of Japanese Abduction Victims Meet With US Ambassador, Congressional Delegation - 2002-12-06

The relatives of Japanese abducted by North Korea met with the U.S. ambassador to Japan and a congressional delegation. The families sought their help in getting more information about eight kidnapping victims Pyongyang says are dead.

U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker and a group of senior U.S. congressmen offered sympathy to the families of Japanese citizens kidnapped a quarter century ago by North Korea. They did not, however, present anything specific in terms of help or assistance.

North Korea has admitted to abducting 13 Japanese in the late 1970's and 1980's to train spies. The five known survivors are in Japan for their first visit home.

Pyongyang demands they return to North Korea but Tokyo wants their children and the American husband of one abductee, Hitomi Soga, to come to Japan. He is Charles Robert Jenkins, thought to be a U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea in the 1960s.

In a crowded noisy with the flashing cameras of photographers, Representative Henry Hyde offered support to the abductees and their families. "The pain and suffering that you have had to endure for the past quarter of century is almost beyond understanding," he said.

In a statement, Mr. Hyde said the United States shares Japan's view that North Korea must give a full accounting of what happened to all the Japanese citizens it abducted. He called the kidnappings a cold-blooded act against innocent people. Mr. Hyde also said he hopes Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Pyongyang in September will encourage change in the isolated Stalinist state.

The family members asked for the United States' support in getting more information on the fate of the eight other abductees. Pyongyang says they died in accidents or from illness. Many Japanese do not believe North Korea's claims and suspect they may have been killed.

Shigeru Yokota's 13-year-old daughter Megumi was among those kidnapped by North Korean agents. Pyongyang says she committed suicide. Mr. Yokota said Friday after the meeting that he is grateful for the United States' goodwill on the issue and that he believes Megumi is still alive. Mr. Yokota said growing international public attention is a big strength for the abductees and their families. He is pleased that Americans are interested in this.

The families also raised the subject of Mr. Jenkins, the alleged U.S. army deserter. He could face U.S. changes if he leaves Pyongyang and Tokyo has asked Washington to pardon him.

Ambassador Baker said Monday that while he feels sorry for Mr. Jenkins, his case would have to be decided in accordance with U.S. laws.