Japanese prime minister hopeful visit by ex-North Korean spy will help resolve abductee issue

By Jay Alabaster, AP
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Japan PM: Ex-NKorean spy visit will help abductees

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister says he hopes a media-saturated visit by a former North Korean spy will help bring home Japanese kidnapped by the communist country decades ago — despite claims that all living abductees were repatriated.

North Korea admitted in 2002 it abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s to train its spies in Japanese. The communist regime allowed five to return home later that year, saying the others were dead.

Japan says at least 17 of its citizens were kidnapped and the issue remains unresolved. Tokyo has demanded proof of the deaths and an investigation into the other suspected abductions.

Kim Hyon-hui, convicted in South Korea of bombing an airliner in 1987 and killing all 115 people aboard, was sentenced to death but later pardoned and became a best-selling author. Now living in South Korea, she has injected herself into the sensitive issue of the North Korea abductions, claiming she met and was taught by some Japanese who vanished.

Kim’s visit has raised hopes she might reveal clues about those who disappeared. She met and ate with family members of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in 1978, after arriving Tuesday and was to meet the parents of another victim Wednesday.

“I have strong expectations that this visit will lead to the freeing of the victims, even if only a single day sooner,” said Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Analysts say, however, that Kim likely has limited ability to bring progress on the abduction issue. She has not lived in North Korea since her 1987 arrest, is unlikely to have any fresh information and probably has no sway with Pyongyang.

Kim said Taguchi helped teach her Japanese language and customs. She told family members last year she might still be alive, though Pyongyang says that’s not true.

Kim was to meet Wednesday with the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was taken in 1977 at age 13 on her way home from school.

“I am hopeful that this will help resolve the kidnapping issue, even slightly,” said Shigeru Yokota, Megumi’s father.

The former spy is still a controversial figure, whom critics accuse of playing up an 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 the vacation home of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Karuizawa, where she remains under close guard. Photographers and TV cameras have captured only fleeting glimpses of her from afar, and government officials refuse to release her schedule.

Kim has said she was ordered to bomb the Korean Air plane by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il. The reclusive state has denied involvement, but the attack prompted the United States to include North Korea on its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.

Kim’s pardon came on the grounds that she was duped by the North’s communist regime into trying to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics and because she repented her crime.

Kim and a male North Korean agent, posing as a Japanese father and daughter, boarded the flight from Baghdad to Seoul on Nov. 28, 1987. They planted a time-bomb on the plane and got off in Abu Dhabi. The aircraft exploded the next day over the Andaman Sea.

Kim 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.

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