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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Kin hope U.S.-N. Korea summit a chance for return of abductees

Families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago welcomed on Friday the expected summit between U.S. and North Korean leaders, calling it a good opportunity to make headway in a decades-old issue including the return of the victims.

 

“That North Korea, which has long closed its door to diplomacy, now says it will talk is a great opportunity,” said Sakie Yokota, the 82-year-old mother of a girl who has come to symbolize Japanese citizens abducted by the North.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by May for a first-ever bilateral summit, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.

 

Speaking at her home in Kawasaki, southwest of Tokyo, Yokota expressed hope the summit could pave the way to reunite with the abductees “as soon as possible,” given that family members are aging. “(We) may not be able to see them (if things do not move forward swiftly),” she said.

 

Yokota’s daughter Megumi was abducted in 1977 on her way back from school at age 13 in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast.

 

In September 2017, Trump condemned North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and the 1980s, referring specifically to Megumi’s case in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

 

Trump also met with the families of abduction victims when he visited Japan in November and pledged to make efforts to resolve the issue.

 

“Mr. Trump showed sympathy toward the abduction issue, so I would like him to urge (North Korea) to return the victims,” Yokota said. She also sought his support to help in realizing a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim.

 

Megumi’s brother Takuya Yokota, 49, expressed caution, saying, “We’ve been fooled by North Korea’s posture of holding dialogue. I’m half-worried this will happen again.”

 

Based on the 2014 agreement between Japan and North Korea, Pyongyang reopened the investigation of the abduction issue but it later unilaterally disbanded the so-called special investigation committee tasked to look into the whereabouts of the missing Japanese.

 

Shigeo Iizuka, the 79-year-old head of a group representing abductees’ families, meanwhile, said he sees the Trump-Kim summit as momentum for a “chance of a lifetime” and believes the Japanese government should make the most out of it.

 

“The government should call on the U.S. government to bring up the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals (at the meeting),” said Iizuka, whose younger sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted when she was 22.

 

Japan officially lists 17 citizens as having been abducted by North Korean agents, and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in the disappearance of other Japanese nationals.

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