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North Korea, Japan Deadlocked Over Abductees - 2003-04-14

North Korea and Japan remain deadlocked over the fate of five Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago for espionage training. The five were allowed to visit Japan for the first time six months ago, but Tokyo refused to let them return, and Pyongyang will not let their families travel to Japan.

The official North Korean Central News Agency blamed Japan for keeping the abductees from their loved ones, calling Tokyo's decision to permanently repatriate them tragic.

KCNA did not mention a Japanese request for Pyongyang to allow the abductees' families to join them in Japan.

It was only last September that North Korea admitted, for the first time, its agents kidnapped nearly a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in language and customs. Pyongyang allowed the five it acknowledged were still alive to travel to Japan for a brief visit in October, in the hopes it would remove the last major obstacle to establishing formal diplomatic ties with Japan.

But again relations were overshadowed, this time by North Korean violations of nuclear non-proliferation agreements.

And now the five abductees are worried their plight is being sidelined and they will never be reunited with their families of the past several decades.

One of the five, 43-year-old Hitomi Soga, said she constantly worries about her husband and two daughters she left behind in North Korea. She spoke to reporters in her hometown on Sadogashima Island.

Ms. Soga said she finds it hard to describe her situation, which started as a trip but that some might now see as her running away from home. She pleaded with the Japanese government to take visible action to bring about a reunion of her family.

Ms. Soga and her mother were kidnapped in 1978 while they walked home from grocery shopping. Her mother remains unaccounted for.

Regarding the fate of other Japanese abductees, who North Korea claims are dead, Pyongyang, said everything has been done to settle the issue. It adds that Japan's refusal to accept that the abducted Japanese are dead is what it called a "moral vulgarity."