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Japanese Have Mixed Feeling on PM's Visit to Pyongyang - 2004-05-24

New opinion polls show that most Japanese approve of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attending a summit meeting in Pyongyang last Saturday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, but most are also disappointed with the results.

Public opinion polls conducted over the weekend by three Japanese news organizations (the Asahi, Mainichi and Yomiuri newspapers) show more than 60 percent of respondents "approve" of the prime minister's visit to Pyongyang.

But 70 percent of those replying to the Yomiuri survey say they are unhappy with the outcome of the summit.

The Japanese media and even some members of Mr. Koizumi's own party have criticized the trip for achieving little on the main issues dividing the two countries: the abduction of Japanese by North Korean agents during the Cold War, and Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

The prime minister, after a 90-minute meeting with Mr. Kim, returned home with five children born in North

Korea to two kidnapped Japanese couples who were allowed to return to Japan in late 2002. He also received permission for the American husband and two children of another abductee to leave. The husband, however, allegedly deserted his U.S. Army post in South Korea in 1965, and he faces a possible court martial if he goes to Japan. He and his children elected to stay in North Korea for the time being.

While there is praise for the release of the children, Mr. Koizumi is receiving a tongue-lashing from the relatives of other Japanese abducted by North Korea, for failing to bring back credible information about the fate of their loves ones.

Mr. Kim told Mr. Koizumi in 2002 that 13 Japanese had been kidnapped, and eight of them had died. Japan says the number is at least 15, and possibly more, and the families all want details about their loved ones that Mr. Kim has failed to provide.

On Saturday, Mr. Kim said only that he would "reinvestigate" the cases of the dead abductees.

Mrs. Sakie Yokota, whose daughter was abducted in 1977 at the age of 13, says Mr. Koizumi has ignored their pleas. She says the families expected much. Instead what they saw was the prime minister rewarding North Korea by giving it aid.

Japan has given North Korea 250-thousand tons of rice and $10 million worth of medical supplies, although it denies this was in exchange for the children.

The donation prompted a rare public acknowledgement from North Korean media, which usually bitterly condemn Japan. Pyongyang television noted Mr. Koizumi's visit and the aid he promised, but made no mention of the kidnap controversy.

The leader of Japan's opposition Democratic Party called the summit "a big failure" and said the prime minister should have demanded a deadline for information about the dead abductees.

South Korea's Unification Ministry issued a rare public comment Monday about citizens of that country kidnapped by North Korea following the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s. The ministry says some 486 South Koreans were abducted and have not returned home.