Abductees to receive passports after visit

The government will issue Japanese passports to the five abductees who will briefly return to Japan from North Korea next week, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

Hitoshi Tanaka, head of the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told the House of Councilors committee on foreign and defense affairs that the five abductees will be carrying Japanese passports when they leave Japan after the visit, which is to start Tuesday.

The five abductees — Yasushi Chimura, 47, Fukie Hamamoto, 47, Kaoru Hasuike, 45, Yukiko Okudo, 46, and Hitomi Soga, 43 — are Japanese nationals.

The government will issue them with travel documents when they enter Japan.

“We are preparing to issue Japanese passports to them when they go back to North Korea,” Tanaka told the committee.

The issuance of passports indicates the government is determined to effect the permanent return of the abductees and their children.

The children will stay in North Korea during this visit.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, appearing before the committee, reiterated the government’s aim to seek the return of every member of the survivors’ families.

Meanwhile, Abe refused to confirm reports that Japan received truckloads of “matsutake” mushrooms from North Korea as souvenirs when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang on Sept. 17.

He denied any knowledge of this to the Upper House committee and the House of Representative foreign affairs committee later in the day.

“I do not know about such a thing,” he said. “I was concentrating on the return of the survivors . . . and frankly, I wasn’t even interested in souvenirs.”

The government mission on Sept. 17 reportedly received a multitude of matsutake boxes — enough to fill two trucks — and brought them back to Japan aboard a government plane.

A special Diet group raised the issue last week, criticizing the government for receiving gifts from North Korea at a time when the nation is angry about the kidnapping issue. A Foreign Ministry official told the group that the ministry would investigate the case.

Tanaka admitted Thursday that Japan had received some souvenirs but could not confirm what these gifts were.

“Even if it is a country like North Korea, there is a diplomatic protocol, and exchanges of souvenirs can be considered,” he said. “But the content of what have been exchanged is not something we make public.”