Aid views: ‘Abductions a frame-up; food comes first’

Allegations that North Korean agents have abducted Japanese are a frame-up and Tokyo should pledge money to the United Nations to help the state’s starving citizens, according to a former senior U.N. official who teaches at Saitama University.

Yasuhiko Yoshida, a professor of international relations, said Tokyo should send 1 million tons of redundant rice on humanitarian grounds in addition to other forms of aid. “Humanitarianism means helping out people who are in trouble and dying,” he said, noting he is not happy about North Korea’s privileged class alone enjoying comfortable lives and the undemocratic nature of the country.

The former director of the public information division at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yoshida has visited North Korea three times since 1994. His contacts have included Hwang Jang Yop, the country’s top ideologue, who defected to the South Korean mission in Beijing in February and is currently seeking asylum in South Korea.

Yoshida now heads a nationwide group aimed at establishing diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang, and is involved in several Japanese nongovernment organizations sending food to North Korea. He anticipates that the abduction controversy may subside in a couple of weeks and the Japanese government will pledge to the U.N. a disbursement that he estimates will be up to $10 million.

While admitting he has no idea what actually happened to the missing Japanese, he doubts North Korea had any motive to take them to the communist country. The motive most widely speculated for the abductions is that victims were secured to become language teachers for secret agents.

But, he said, North Korea could use its nationals living in Japan who visit their motherland, or university students who speak perfect Japanese. “If anything, it seems more persuasive to assume South Korea committed the abduction to make it appear the North did it and enhance anti-Pyongyang sentiments among the Japanese,” he said.

The current allegations against Pyongyang were raised by South Korea’s intelligence agency in conspiracy with some conservative politicians and media organizations in Japan, all of whom want to bash North Korea, according to Yoshida. The Japanese media and the Diet picked up the issue before and during Hwang’s visit to Japan in February. Hwang sought asylum after leaving Japan.

About concerns that food aid may not reach ordinary citizens, he said U.N. agents and NGO members can monitor the distribution across the country. He acknowledged the Japanese government erred in 1995 when it did not insist on monitoring conditions before sending 500,000 metric tons of rice to North Korea. “But things are different now,” Yoshida said, adding that the devastating situation has made North Korean authorities tolerant of foreign aid workers monitoring villages.