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Editorial: Yokota’s death shows time is running out for abductees’ kin

Shigeru Yokota, a leader of a long-running campaign for the return of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by North Korea, has succumbed to age before fulfilling his fervent wish to see his daughter again, one of the abductees.


Yokota, the father of Megumi Yokota, perhaps the best known of more than a dozen Japanese citizens known to have been kidnapped and taken to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, died of natural causes in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on June 5. He was 87.


It is painful to imagine the profound sorrow and frustration he must have felt as he took his last breath. This tragedy must not be allowed to happen again.


We denounce North Korea’s heartlessness and urge the Japanese government to take effective steps quickly to end this inhumanity.


Megumi Yokota disappeared in 1977 on her way home from school when she was 13. It took 20 years for the Diet to recognize her abduction by North Korea.


Her father became the representative of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea upon its founding in March 1997. Together with his wife, Sakie, they spearheaded the efforts to bring back the kidnap victims from the reclusive country, delivering more than 1,400 lectures on the issue nationwide.


The Yokotas also met and talked with the families of South Korean abductees and tried to rescue the Japanese wives of former Korean residents in Japan who went to North Korea with their husbands after the end of World War II and became trapped in the hermit kingdom.


Countless Japanese have learned the facts about North Korea and developed a heartfelt sympathy for the victims through the tireless efforts that Shigeru Yokota made. He sought to bring his daughter back without losing his gentleness while being driven by a deep parental love.


He was a symbol of Japan’s long and grueling battle to tackle the humanitarian problem.


Another grim reality that has been underscored by his death is the advanced ages of the victims and their families.


In February, Kayoko Arimoto, the mother of Keiko Arimoto, another abductee, died at the age of 94.


Her husband, Akihiro, 91, and Sakie Yokota are now the only surviving parents of the unreturned Japanese abductees the government has recognized as having been forcibly taken to North Korea.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has declared the resolution of the abduction issue to be his administration’s “top policy priority,” said, “I feel heartbreaking grief” over Yokota’s death and pledged anew to make all-out efforts to achieve the goal.


But the Abe administration has so far failed even to start serious talks with Pyongyang over the issue.


The blame, of course, falls on North Korea’s insincere attitude.


In 2002, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted his regime’s past abductions of Japanese citizens including Megumi Yokota during a landmark summit with then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and apologized for the crimes.


The two leaders signed a Pyongyang Declaration, which committed their countries to settling all the pending bilateral disputes including the abduction issue with an eye to a future normalization of their diplomatic relationship.


In the following years, however, North Korea provided shoddy and inaccurate information about the abductions to Japan.


The Abe administration, for its part, has not been consistent in dealing with North Korea.


After promoting a policy of putting “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, Abe suddenly offered to engage in “dialogue without conditions” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after the United States and North Korea began talks.


Abe’s inconsistent strategy is unlikely to bring North Korea to the negotiation table.


Six years ago, Japan and North Korea struck a “Stockholm Agreement,” which is based on the Pyongyang Declaration, and committed Pyongyang to conduct comprehensive and full-scale investigations into abductees and the remains of Japanese nationals left in the country.


Japan promised to lift part of its economic sanctions against North Korea in return.


The agreement was reached shortly after the Yokotas were allowed to see their North Korean-born granddaughter, or Megumi’s daughter, for the first time at a secret meeting in Mongolia. This apparent goodwill gesture by North Korea paved the way for the deal in Stockholm.


To carry out the wishes of the late Shigeru Yokota, the Abe administration must make every possible effort to get Pyongyang to agree to a new round of negotiations based on the agreement.


Any progress on the abduction issue could only come out of direct talks between Japan and North Korea.

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