NEW YORK – Even if North Korea gives up its nuclear arms, Japan would not resume aid to the isolated state until it clears up the abductions of Japanese citizens dating back more than three decades, said Keiji Furuya, minister of state for the issue.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has intensified calls for the North to account for the kidnappings since he took office in December. His government’s “firm” stance was stressed by Furuya during a international symposium in New York on Friday.
Furuya told the gathering that the abductions of at least 17 Japanese nationals during the 1970s and ’80s were “acts of terrorism” by North Korea, drawing a parallel with the Boston Marathon bombings.
The symposium, held at the Japan Society near U.N. headquarters, was the second of its kind organized by the Japanese government in the United States as part of its efforts to raise global awareness of the abductees issue. The first took place in Washington the previous day.
Japan has felt particularly threatened by North Korea’s recent nuclear weapons test and a long-range rocket launch in December, which resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions against the communist regime.
But Furuya said that even if the North relents on its weapons development, Tokyo would not help finance the huge aid projects that diplomats say Pyongyang wants and some countries are ready to consider.
“I believe it will be difficult for Japan to actively contribute to the large-scale humanitarian aid that would be resumed immediately after such developments, as long as there are no significant developments on the abduction issue,” Furuya said.
He also voiced the “firm resolution of the nation” to uncover the fate of all the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
In a speech at Friday’s event, Maarit Kohonen Sheriff, deputy head of the New York office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed optimism that a new United Nations commission will contribute to resolving the abductees issue.
“It is our hope that the newly established Commission of Inquiry (will) come up with detailed analysis of such a gross violation of human rights by (the) DPRK, including collection and documentation of victims’ testimony and account of survivors, witnesses and perpetrators,” Sheriff said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In March, the U.N. Human Rights Council established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights issues in North Korea. The number of special rapporteurs designated by the council has increased from one to three.
Japan last November held its first informal talks with North Korea in four years. But the dialogue was suspended when Pyongyang started threatening to stage banned weapons tests.
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, father of the country’s current youthful ruler, Kim Jong Un, admitted in 2002 that his agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals. Five Japanese were subsequently allowed to return home, but Pyongyang claimed eight others had died and denied any knowledge of others that Tokyo said had been kidnapped to help train the North’s agents.
Officials in Tokyo say they believe many of the hostages are still alive.
Repatriating the victims, who were as young as 13 when they were seized, remains a highly emotive national cause. Abe has increased the ministerial committee on the abductions and he raises the issue in meetings with all foreign leaders. A police service set up to follow leads into the kidnappings also has been reinforced.
Some 260 people packed the Japan Society for the New York symposium, including researchers from U.S. universities, U.N. officials and interested citizens.