The mother of a girl who has become the symbol of anger over Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea told Congress yesterday that time is running out to save her daughter and the other victims who she thinks are still alive.
In sometimes tearful testimony, Sakie Yokota, whose daughter, Megumi, was 13 when she was kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977, spoke of the profound pain, fatigue and helplessness she has felt trying to find her daughter.
Mrs. Yokota, who was scheduled to meet with President Bush today, urged the world to impose sanctions on North Korea if the victims are not returned immediately.
“My daughter, Megumi, and other abductees must be alive somewhere in North Korea,” Mrs. Yokota said through a translator. “They are waiting for our help, even now.”
Lawmakers expressed outrage. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House International Relations human rights subcommittee, said the North uses abductees to work as spies and to train North Korean agents in language and culture.
“Thousands of South Koreans and hundreds of Japanese have suffered and died as pawns of this twisted regime,” Mr. Smith said.
Mrs. Yokota’s voice faltered as she told the joint hearing of the subcommittee on Asia and human rights that she learned from a North Korean agent that Megumi’s kidnappers had kept her in a small, dark chamber in the bottom of an intelligence ship. Megumi was said to have scraped the walls with her fingers while crying, “Mother, help me,” Mrs. Yokota said.
She showed lawmakers a picture of her daughter taken in North Korea after the kidnapping, pointing out how lonesome Megumi looks.
“When I saw it, I couldn’t resist caressing her picture and saying, ‘Oh, Megumi, you were here, in this kind of place; how frightened you must have been. Please forgive me for not rescuing you yet.’”
In 2002, the North said it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ‘80s. Pyongyang allowed five of them to return home, but said the other eight — including Megumi Yokota — were dead. Many in Japan, including Yokota’s parents, suspect the others are alive.
The focus on the North’s human rights abuses comes amid stalled efforts by the United States and four other nations to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.
Jay Lefkowitz, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, testified that Mr. Bush also cares deeply about the missing.
“Until the North Korean government is accountable, honestly, for the whereabouts of every one of the abductees, not only in Japan but in several other countries as well, it will not have any international legitimacy,” Mr. Lefkowitz said.