Families react with hope, distrust over new N. Korea probe into fate of abductees

May 30, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The parents of abductees expressed mixed emotions following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement May 29 that North Korea agreed to reopen the investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals it abducted decades ago.

“I think this will be the last chance (to learn the fate of the abductees). I hope it produces results,” said Shigeru Yokota, the 81-year-old father of abductee Megumi Yokota, at his home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. Megumi was 13 years old when she was abducted by North Korean agents while walking along a street on the way home in Niigata in 1977.

He added, “I hope (Japan) closely pays attention to the developments as they unfold. I want Japan to trust North Korea and wait even if the investigation takes time.”

“I hope they will investigate with sincerity,” said Megumi’s mother, Sakie, 78. “I hope both countries will take this occasion to build a peaceful relationship, and it is seen as a good thing.”

North Korea agreed to reopen the investigation into the abductees in exchange for Japan lifting economic sanctions against Pyongyang. The agreement was reached during three days of talks in Sweden that ended on May 28.

The Japanese government officially recognizes 17 people (eight men and nine women), including Megumi, who went missing in the 1970s and 1980s as victims of abduction by North Korean agents.

Shigeo Iizuka, a representative for the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, expressed relief.

“We are finally seeing concrete results after years of efforts,” Iizuka, 75, said at his home in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture. “I want to watch the developments closely and make sure the agreement isn’t broken.”

Akira Ishioka, whose brother Toru went missing around 1980 at the age of 22 while traveling in Europe, was more cautious.

“I cannot tell until I see the results (of the renewed investigation),” the Sapporo resident said.

Even though North Korea reported Toru's death, “Humans make mistakes. I hope he will return home one day, saying, ‘I’m alive,’ ” Ishioka said.

Kayoko Arimoto, 88, the mother of Keiko Arimoto, who went missing in 1983 in Copenhagen, was not sure if she is ready to trust the North Korean government.

“I cannot totally believe that country. But this is one step forward, and I want to see (Keiko) before I die,” she said.

The National Police Agency said there are 860 cases of missing individuals in which Pyongyang’s involvement cannot conclusively be ruled out.

Tamaji Takeshita’s sister Noriko Furukawa disappeared in 1973 at the age of 18, another suspected abduction, but not officially listed, by North Korea.

Takeshita, a resident of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, sees the reopening of the investigation as “a great step forward,” but still remains wary.

“Having seen what North Korea has been doing, I am not sure if I can trust that country,” Takeshita, 70, said.

Hitomi Soga, 55, one of the five former victims of North Korean abductions to be repatriated in 2002 who now lives on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, said, “I felt the prime minister is as serious this time as ever. I hope the government will work hard to get all the victims returned.”

The latest agreement also includes the reopening of discussions on recovering the remains of Japanese nationals who perished on the Korean Peninsula in the waning days of World War II and its immediate aftermath.

A liaison group for families of those who never returned after the war was formed in October 2012. The members of the group and family members of the deceased have visited North Korea eight times since then.

“We were so close but unable to recover remains that were virtually right there in front of us,” recalled Rumiko Onishi, the group’s secretary-general. “I strongly hope the agreement will accelerate the effort to recover the remains.”

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents when she was 13, talk with reporters on May 29 at their home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, after Pyongyang agreed to reopen the investigation into the whereabouts of abductees who remain missing. (Takaharu Yagi)

Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents when she was 13, talk with reporters on May 29 at their home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, after Pyongyang agreed to reopen the investigation into the whereabouts of abductees who remain missing. (Takaharu Yagi)

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  • Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents when she was 13, talk with reporters on May 29 at their home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, after Pyongyang agreed to reopen the investigation into the whereabouts of abductees who remain missing. (Takaharu Yagi)
  • Akihiro and Kayoko Arimoto, the parents of Keiko Arimoto, who went missing in Europe in 1983, talk with reporters at their home in Kobe after Pyongyang on May 29 agreed to reopen the investigation into the whereabouts of abductees who remain missing. (Yoshinori Mizuno)

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