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Former Japanese Abductees Still Face Frustrations - 2003-10-15

Wednesday marks one year since five Japanese -abducted by North Korean agents - returned to Japan. While they have started new lives, they are frustrated that family members still in North Korea have not been able to join them.

Since their return a year ago, the kidnapped victims' hope for a reunion with loved ones has dwindled. Pyongyang has indicated it will not allow relatives of the returnees to leave until Japan sends the kidnap victims back to North Korea.

Caught between a standoff between the two countries, Ms. Hitomi Soga expresses frustration as she marked one-year separated from her American husband and two daughters in North Korea. She says the Japanese government has repeatedly told her to be patient but she does not whom to trust any more. She says at times she has felt abandoned. Ms. Soga is calling on the government to take all steps to make sure she can be re-united with her family.

Ms. Yukiko Hasuike, who along with her husband, was abducted in 1978, also expresses concern about the stalemate in discussions between Tokyo and Pyongyang. She says she is constantly thinking of her children and dreams of the day they will come to Japan so the family can go shopping together.

Another returnee, Ms. Fukie Chimura says she is worried that the abduction issue is being sidelined by the desire to resolve North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday said he wants to make sure that relatives of the abductees can come to Japan.

At a bilateral summit meeting held in Pyongyang last September, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Mr. Koizumi that North Korean agents carried out the kidnappings and he apologized to the Japanese prime minister. But since the return of the five abductees, North Korea has said it considers the matter resolved.

North Korea has admitted abducting 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies. The communist state has said, eight of them have since died but has not offered convincing proof for relatives. Some support groups contend that North Korea probably abducted dozens of Japanese.

Diplomats say there have been intermittent contacts about the matter between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which have never had diplomatic relations.

Angered by the lack of progress in reuniting the Families, some here are calling for the Japanese government to impose economic sanctions against North Korea.