Details about deaths of abductees dubious

Floods reportedly erased evidence

A government fact-finding team reported Wednesday that during a recent mission to North Korea it met and confirmed the identities of five Japanese nationals but was given dubious details about the deaths of eight others abducted by the hermit state, including that their graves washed away in massive floods.

The information was “not sufficient to confirm their deaths,” said Shinzo Abe, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, quoting the team’s report.

The information came from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

North Korea claims:

Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped in November 1977 in Niigata at the age of 13, committed suicide in March 1993 in a mental hospital while being treated for depression.

Keiko Arimoto, taken in July 1983 to North Korea from Europe at the age of 23, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in November 1988 due to a malfunctioning coal heating system.

Toru Ishioka, who lived with Arimoto, and their child, also died in the mishap.

The North also says two abductees died in separate car accidents and that another died of heart disease at the age of 27.

“Confirmation of the deaths requires more concrete information,” Abe said. “And we will continue to demand that North Korea investigate the cases further.”

While in the North, the team met a teenage girl believed to be the daughter of Yokota and brought back hair samples that will be analyzed to determine whether she really is the abductee’s offspring.

The team also brought back remains believed to be those of Kaoru Matsuki, who Pyongyang officials say went to the country in June 1980 of his own free will. He allegedly died in August 1996 in a traffic accident.

In addition, the mission was told that one survivor, Hitomi Soga, lives with a former U.S. serviceman identified as Charles Robert Jenkins and their two daughters.

The team, headed by Akitaka Saiki, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, met the five surviving abductees during its visit.

According to Abe, however, the five said they are not ready to return to Japan because they have jobs in North Korea and their children cannot speak Japanese.

The 11-member team returned Tuesday night after spending two days in North Korea investigating abductions from the 1970s and 1980s.

Kyoko Nakayama, a special liaison between the government and the abductees’ relatives, briefed families on the mission’s report Wednesday morning.

Later in the day, the mission’s findings were disclosed during a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

The team included a medical attache from the Foreign Ministry and a forensic expert from Tokyo Dental College versed in DNA testing. It will take nearly a month to obtain the results of all the tests.

According to North Korea’s explanation, seven of the 13 abductees were taken by North Korean agents, five left for the North voluntarily and one was kidnapped by a Japanese agent cooperating with North Korea.

North Korea said it punished two agents who were responsible for the series of abductions. One was executed and the other given a 15-year sentence, the mission’s report says, without elaborating.

The mission was dispatched after North Korea provided information on the abductees during Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Sept. 17 summit in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Koizumi said North Korea dealt with the Japanese mission “with sincerity” and expressed Japan’s desire to resume normalization negotiations with the communist state this month, as was agreed to with Kim.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, however, remained cautious, saying the government will make a decision on the resumption of talks after closely examining the mission’s report.

“The scope of the latest investigation was limited,” Fukuda said. “With that in mind, we should decide whether we can accept the result of the investigation after carefully scrutinizing it.”

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi expressed dissatisfaction with the mission.

“I don’t think enough evidence was found (about the reported deaths of abductees),” Kawaguchi said. “We will continue to demand more information to find the truth.”

But Kawaguchi stressed that the normalization talks should resume this month as planned and that the abductions issue should be discussed in that process.

The government plans to dispatch a second fact-finding mission to further investigate the cases in collaboration with North Korean authorities.

Gist of abduction findings by North Korea mission

Following is a summary of findings released Wednesday by a government mission to North Korea concerning the 13 Japanese nationals confirmed as having been abducted to the Stalinist state. The mission:

* Confirmed the identities of the five surviving abductees.

* Called for further probes and information to identify the eight abductees listed as dead.

* Brought back unidentified remains that North Korea said will help confirm the identities of the dead.

* Confirmed the five survivors are considering whether to return to Japan.

* Will try to bring the abductees and their families back to Japan as quickly as possible, if they so desire.

* Said North Korea claims it has punished those responsible for the abductions.

* Said North Korea has promised to fully cooperate in efforts to completely resolve the abduction cases.