SEOUL – Japanese fishermen may have been abducted by North Korea decades ago while operating in the Sea of Japan, a South Korean activist who heads a group of family members whose relatives had been abducted to the North said Tuesday.
Citing a North Korean source, Choe Seong-ryong said North Korea, which was regularly seizing South Korean fishing boats back then, may have sought to use Japanese fishermen as operatives and exploit their familiarity with Japanese coastal areas.
He said he learned from the source that a number of Japanese abductees in North Korea were once fishermen.
From the end of the Korean War in 1953 through the 1980s, North Korea is believed to have abducted more than 3,000 South Koreans after seizing their boats while they were at sea.
A 63-year-old former South Korean fisherman, abducted to the North in 1975 in international waters between South Korea and Japan, said South Korean and Japanese fishing boats were competing for fish in the area.
The statement of the fisherman, who escaped from North Korea back to the South, raised the possibility Japanese fishing boats were among those raided by North Korea at the time.
Including the former fisherman’s case, high-speed North Korean boats approached the fishing boats and threatened fishermen at gunpoint to sail toward North Korean ports.
When South Korean fishermen disappeared with their boats, they were regarded for a long time as having been lost at sea.
In some cases, North Koreans allegedly shot and killed fishermen who resisted, and these could have included Japanese.
South Korea officially lists 517 of its citizens as being abducted by the North.
North Korea is believed to have tried to train the South Korean abductees as operatives or as trainers for operatives.
In September 2002, North Korea admitted it abducted or lured 13 Japanese to the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and that eight of them had died. In October 2002, five Japanese abductees returned to Japan. The 13 did not include any fishermen.
Unconvinced by North Korea’s explanations about the circumstances of abductees said to have died, Japan has been calling for an investigation into the fate of those missing, including Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977 as she was walking home from school in her seaside village in Niigata Prefecture. Pyongyang says Yokota is among those who died in captivity.
Tokyo recognizes a total of 17 Japanese, including the five who were returned, as abduction victims. But the disappearances of numerous other Japanese are believed to be linked to possible abductions by North Korea.