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Kishida offers apology after death of ex-head of abductee group

Tokyo, Dec. 18 (Jiji Press)–Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday offered words of apology to Shigeo Iizuka, former head of a group of families of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea decades ago, who passed away the same day before being able to reunite with his missing sister.


“I feel profoundly sorry,” the prime minister told reporters. “I met him shortly after I assumed office and I was impressed by him saying that he will never give up.”


“I sense the reality that there’s no time to lose as the victims’ families have become old. We’ll surely work on resolving the issue without missing any chance,” Kishida also said.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno expressed condolences over the death of Iizuka, whose younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped in 1978 at the age of 22.


“It’s my deepest regret and I’m truly sorry that we were unable to get Ms. Taguchi back to Japan and allow her to reunite with Mr. Iizuka while he was still alive,” Matsuno, who also serves as minister in charge of the abduction issue, said in a statement.


Matsuno said that the abduction issue is one of the most important challenges for the Kishida administration.


“We’ll devote all our efforts to realize the return of all abduction victims to Japan as soon as possible, while staying close to the feelings their families,” he added.


Meanwhile, Takuya Yokota, 53, a younger brother of abductee Megumi, said that he cannot imagine how disappointed Iizuka was to be unable to see his sister.


“As we have no time to lose, we want the Japanese government to conduct diplomatic negotiations in a concrete and prompt manner,” said Yokota, who succeeded Iizuka as head of the group earlier this month.


Yokota said that Iizuka always spoke softly to the public by choosing his words carefully.


“His stance motivated people to listen to the abduction issue as if it were their own problem,” Yokota said in Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo.


Vowing to succeed the will of Iizuka, Yokota said, “I’d like to ask him to watch over our activities with peace of mind.”


Sakie Yokota, 85, the mother of Megumi, who was abducted at the age of 13, told reporters in Kawasaki in Kanagawa that she is grateful for the hard work by Iizuka.


Referring to the aging of the abduction victims’ families, she said, “I think he died with a lot of regret.”


Tsutomu Nishioka, head of a group supporting abductee families, said in a statement that Iizuka was “a truly sincere person” and the rescue campaign was supported by many people because of his presence.


“To fulfill his long cherished wish, we’ll definitely rescue Yaeko-san and other abduction victims,” Nishioka added.

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