Ex-North Korean spy who blew up jetliner arrives in Japan to meet abductee families

By Tomoko A. Hosaka, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010

Ex-NKorean spy who blew up jetliner visits Japan

TOKYO — A former North Korean spy who blew up a South Korean jetliner more than 20 years ago arrived in Japan on Tuesday to meet the families of Japanese kidnapped by the reclusive regime to train its agents, including one she says coached her on Japanese culture.

Kim Hyon-hui was convicted in South Korea of bombing a Korean Air jet in a 1987 act of sabotage that killed all 115 people aboard, and was sentenced to death. Even while on trial, she won admirers for her classic good looks. She was eventually pardoned and became a best-selling author, writing books about her time as a spy.

She met Tuesday with relatives of Yaeko Taguchi, who was kidnapped from Tokyo in 1978 when he was 22.

Kim claims that, as part of her intelligence training, Taguchi helped teach her Japanese and about his country’s customs. She told family members last year he might still be alive, though Pyongyang says that’s not true.

“I really felt from the atmosphere today that we’ve established a close and trusting relationship,” said Shigeo Izuka, Taguchi’s older brother.

According to broadcast NHK, Kim was due to meet Wednesday with relatives of another abductee, Megumi Yokota, who was taken in 1977 at the age of 13 on her way home from school.

The former spy is still a controversial figure, whom critics accuse of playing up her beauty and image as a victim of North Korea’s communist regime in exchange for a pardon from the death sentence. She arrived by a small chartered jet and was taken by full police escort to Karuizawa, a popular summer retreat town in central Japan, where she is staying at the vacation home of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

“We can confirm that she has arrived, but can make no other comments on her itinerary due to safety considerations,” said Hideo Ashikawa of the department of the prime minister’s office that deals with abduction issues.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese. The communist regime allowed five to return home later that year, saying the others, including Yokota, were dead.

But the issues remains unresolved for Japan. Since 2002, North Korea has not released any other abductees despite sanctions. Japan believes at least 17 of its citizens were taken. It has demanded proof of the deaths and an investigation into the other suspected kidnappings.

The government arranged the visit at the request of Yokota’s parents, according to Kyodo.

“I think this will lead to progress,” said Hiroshi Nakai, the Cabinet official in charge of the abductions issue and a key negotiator in bringing Kim to Japan.

Kim, 48, is now married to a South Korean intelligence officer who investigated her and lives in South Korea.

She is the daughter of a high-ranking diplomat and a member of Pyongyang’s elite. She was recruited as a spy began when she was studying at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, where she was majoring in Japanese.

She told investigators that she and a male North Korean agent, posing as a Japanese father and daughter, boarded the 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.

She and her accomplice were arrested two days later in Bahrain, where they tried to kill themselves by taking cyanide concealed in cigarette filters. The man died, but Kim recovered and was extradited to Seoul.

Kim has said she was ordered to bomb the plane by Kim Jong Il, the heir of national founder Kim Il Sung and now North Korea’s leader. The reclusive state has denied involvement in the bombing, but the incident prompted the United States to include the country on its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.

Her pardon came 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.

Japanese immigration law prohibits the entry of foreign nationals sentenced to prison for one year or longer. But the justice ministry issued Kim a special permit, Kyodo said.


Associated Press writers Jay Alabaster and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo, and Sangwon Yoon in Seoul contributed to this report.

will not be displayed