Visit by kids of abductees is key: Abe

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Sunday the government will try to expedite visits by the children and spouses of the surviving Japanese abducted to North Korea.

He wants the surviving abductees to feel free to return to Japan permanently without worrying about the consequences for family members in North Korea.

Abe said during a TV appearance that the visiting Japanese, along with their spouses and children, will be able to freely express their opinions when they return to Japan. They should then be able to travel between Japan and North Korea as they choose, he said, adding that the government will accept requests for permanent stays.

Regarding the homecoming visit Tuesday by the five survivors who were abducted to the North in 1978, Abe said, “Although it is a temporary return this time, they are Japanese and Japan is a free country.” If they wish to stay longer or permanently, he said, “We as the government cannot say, ‘Go back.’ “

The people returning to Japan are two couples — Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, both 47; and Kaoru Hasuike, 45 and Yukiko Okudo, 46 — plus a woman, Hitomi Soga, 43. They will be in Japan for two weeks.

A Japanese government official said the same day that the five are scheduled to arrive at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on a chartered plane at around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. They will then travel to their respective hometowns starting Thursday.

But Soga’s husband — a U.S. soldier who defected to the North in 1965 — and six of the returnees’ children will be staying behind in North Korea.

Abe also said Japan will deepen its coordination with the United States in pressing North Korea to clear up international concerns over missile and nuclear development.

“We intend to heighten international pressure and pursue the issues at the negotiating table,” Abe said, noting Japan will take up these matters not only during a security dialogue with North Korea but also in negotiations on normalizing ties.

Tokyo and Pyongyang are expected to resume the normalization talks in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 29 after a two-year suspension.