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Families of Japanese Kidnap Victims Seek US Support - 2003-03-06

Families of Japanese citizens believed kidnapped by North Korea met with U.S. lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The visitors appealed for support in determining the fate of family members still in North Korea, and spoke to members of a congressional committee about human rights conditions in the North.

The visiting Japanese told members of the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee about their family members, who were apparently abducted by agents or members of Pyongyang's military intelligence.

The daughter of Sakie Yokota is one of those kidnapped more than two decades ago, and is thought to have died in North Korea. "If my daughter was not abducted, we would have enjoyed a very normal, daily life," she says. "However, even though she didn't do anything bad, she all of a sudden was taken away from us, and our life then changed completely."

After years of denying reports of the abductions, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il last year gave details to Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea, most of them young people taken in the 1970s and 1980s.

Eight are reported to have died in the North. But family members in Japan continue to press the Tokyo government to seek more information from Pyongyang about others who may still be living, particularly about children of the original abductees.

Congressman Jim Leach, chairman of the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, says the history of the kidnapping problem confirms for him the crux of the North Korean problem. "Lawless actions of this kind clearly reflect on governments that countenance or plan such activities, and in this context, the abduction issue underscores the fundamental nature of the North Korean problem."

Members of the delegation urged the United States to suspend food shipments to North Korea, saying much of it does not get to starving people in the country.

Congressman Steve Chabot said the question of food aid is one U.S. lawmakers will be grappling with as they consider how the United States should deal with Pyongyang. "We want to act in a humanitarian manner to help the people of North Korea, for whom we have great sympathy and want to help," he said. "On the other hand, we always struggle with the fact that that food may be used to prop up the military or a group of people -- gangsters essentially -- at the top who are suppressing the people with the good resources we try to provide."

The visit by the Japanese came as the House International Relations Committee was putting the finishing touches on a resolution condemning a wide range of human rights abuses in North Korea.

Although it still must be approved by the House, it directs the United States to introduce a similar resolution condemning Pyongyang at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights session later this year.