While the world’s attention is focused on the North Korean nuclear crisis, Japan hopes to solicit international support to help it resolve a 20-year-old dispute about Pyongyang’s kidnappings of Japanese citizens.
The National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, a private organization based in Tokyo, estimates that 22 Japanese and 480 South Koreans were abducted by North Korea during the late 1970s and ‘80s.
Association committee member Yoichi Shimada said in Washington yesterday that the Japanese were kidnapped mainly for espionage activities, training in Japanese language and customs, and as a source of Japanese identification.
North Korean President Kim Jong-il first acknowledged 13 of the abductions in September 2002 at a historic summit in Pyongyang with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Dae-jung. One month later, five abductees were able to return to Japan, while others were said to have died.
However, the association is convinced that the death certificates submitted by North Korean authorities were fabricated. The group demands that North Korea release the remaining kidnap victims as well as any families they have acquired in North Korea.
The five who returned to Japan remain there, though their families are still held in North Korea.
“We are insisting [that the international community] take some actions to advance the matter perhaps, some economic sanctions,” said Mr. Shimada. He hopes to arrange a U.S. congressional hearing where relatives of the kidnapping victims would testify.