- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

BUSAN, South Korea | A former North Korean spy met Wednesday with relatives of a Japanese woman abducted to the North decades ago, giving the abductee’s son hope that his mother - declared dead by Pyongyang - might still be alive.

Kim Hyon-hui said that Yaeko Taguchi, who vanished in Tokyo in 1978, taught her Japanese language and culture during her spy training. Mrs. Kim then used that training to pose as a Japanese woman and bomb a Korean Air jetliner in 1987, killing all 115 aboard.

Mrs. Taguchi’s relatives said they had new hope she was alive after Wednesday’s emotional meeting, amid heavy police security, arranged after Mrs. Kim expressed her desire to see Mrs. Taguchi’s brother and son.

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She wanted to tell them how Mrs. Taguchi lived in the North after her abduction - and that she doesn’t believe Mrs. Taguchi is dead.

North Korea has admitted abducting Mrs. Taguchi and 12 other Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s and using them to train spies. North Korean officials allowed five to return to Japan, saying the other eight had died. They said Mrs. Taguchi was killed in a 1986 car accident.

Tokyo has demanded proof of their deaths and an investigation into other suspected kidnappings.

Mrs. Kim hugged Mrs. Taguchi’s son, Koichiro Iizuka, 32, as they appeared before journalists. Mr. Iizuka was 1 year old when his mother was abducted.

Mrs. Kim disputed the North’s claim of Mrs. Taguchi’s death, saying she heard Mrs. Taguchi had moved to another place in North Korea. She said in a recent interview that the North may fear that allowing Mrs. Taguchi back home would reveal details of the country’s spy training.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Taro Aso welcomed the meeting, but was cautious about its impact.

“I do not think this is a big step forward or will greatly help resolve the abduction issue,” he told reporters.

Mrs. Kim, 47, was sentenced to death in South Korea for the airliner bombing but was later pardoned on the grounds that she was duped by the North’s communist regime into trying to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and that she repented her crime.

Ms. Kim has told investigators that she and a male North Korean agent, posing as a Japanese father and daughter, boarded a Korean Air flight from Baghdad to Seoul on Nov. 28, 1987. They planted a time-bomb on the plane after getting off in Abu Dhabi. The plane exploded the next day over the Andaman Sea near Burma, now Myanmar, according to a South Korean investigation.

Mrs. Kim has said she was ordered to bomb the plane by Kim Jong-il, the country’s current leader but then the heir of national founder Kim Il-sung. North Korea has denied involvement in the bombing, but the incident prompted the United States to include the country in its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.

Mrs. Kim later married a South Korean intelligence officer who investigated her and has written several best-selling books. She lived in seclusion for many years until emerging in recent months.

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