Murderess as VIP guest puzzles media

Trip angers U.S. dads with kids 'abducted' to Japan

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — Overseas reaction to Kim Hyon Hui’s four-day visit to Japan to discuss the abduction of Japanese nationals to North Korea ranged from puzzlement to surprise as to the government’s motives, since she had already been questioned on what she knew.

Japan not only allowed into the country a former North Korean saboteur who killed 115 people by planting a bomb on a South Korean jetliner, but also gave her VIP treatment.

In the United States, the strongest words of criticism came from those whose offspring have been “abducted” by their Japanese spouses to Japan. Members of a group lobbying the U.S. government over the issue called the Justice Ministry’s decision to grant Kim a special permit to visit Japan something straight out of a fairy tale.

Opposition party leaders in Tokyo were also critical of Kim’s visit, which produced no new information on the status of Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was abducted by North Korea in 1977 and who Kim claims to have met, or the fate of abductee Yaeko Taguchi, who taught Kim Japanese language and culture.

In 1987, traveling under Japanese passports, Kim and another agent planted a bomb on a Korean Air jetliner before getting off in the Mideast. The two took poison but Kim was saved, taken to South Korea, sentenced to death and then later freed under a pardon.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, president of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Thursday that Kim’s visit, which included a heavily guarded stay at former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s country house in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, a police escort that closed streets, and a helicopter shuttle to different locations, was simply grandstanding by the government.

He added that in light of such treatment of a convicted terrorist, Japan wouldn’t be able to win international support for its stance on terrorism.

The stories of Japanese nationals being kidnapped by North Korean agents during the Cold War are a highly emotive subject in this country, in particular because left-leaning politicians and intellectuals who sympathized with Pyongyang long dismissed the suspected abductions as unfounded allegations.

Politicians have often tried to garner voter support by demonstrating their desire to repatriate abductees believed to be still in North Korea. Pyongyang let five return home in 2002 with then LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but maintains that any others on Japan’s abductee list are either dead or never entered its territory.

For their part, South Korean media wondered why Japan chose now to invite Kim, saying she had no information about the Japanese abductees that Seoul and relatives of South Korean abductees hadn’t already shared with Tokyo.

Some Chinese media, on the other hand, speculated Kim’s visit was less a political stunt by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and more of a victory by the anti-North Korean faction in the Japanese government.

In England, The Independent and The Guardian commented upon the VIP treatment given to Kim, detailing the 1987 bombing and noting she was a former actress whose visit was not expected to produce new information.

But the angriest reactions came from Americans involved in Japan’s other abduction issue — children of Japanese and non-Japanese parents living in a foreign country who are illegally taken to Japan by an estranged spouse.

Members of Bring Abducted Children Home got the House of Representatives to introduce a resolution in May condemning Japan as a haven for child abductions and has since found enough cosponsors in Congress to bring it to a vote.

They compared the Justice Ministry and Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who issued Kim’s special permit to enter Japan, to the characters in “Alice in Wonderland.”

“Is Japan’s Ministry of ‘Justice’ secretly being run by the Queen of Hearts? Japan denies visitation with kidnapped kids,” said Christopher Savoie, who was arrested in Fukuoka last year when he came to Japan to try to take his children back from his ex-wife, who had fled with them to Japan. A U.S. court granted her custody and she originally agreed to remain in the U.S., while Savoie was granted visitation rights.

“Yet the same ministry allows convicted mass murderers into the country in order to preach about the tragedy of child abduction,” he said.