The parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 at the age of 13, met their granddaughter for the first time earlier this month in Mongolia, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
According to the ministry, Yokota’s father, Shigeru Yokota, 81, and mother, Sakie, 78, met 26-year-old Kim Eun Gyong last Monday through Friday in Ulan Bator. Kim was born in North Korea to Megumi Yokota and Kim Young Nam, a South Korean also abducted by Pyongyang.
Kim Young Nam was not present at the meeting, according to the ministry, but the husband of Kim Eun Gyong and their daughter apparently took part.
“It was a miraculous event and it provided great pleasure,” the Yokotas said in a statement Sunday evening. “We strongly hope that the meeting will pave the way for rescuing all the abductees.”
The pair will hold a news conference Monday.
Yokota, who North Korea claims killed herself in 1994, became a symbol of a bitter bilateral feud over Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly aimed at training North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.
Tokyo rejects as baseless the claim that Yokota committed suicide.
Japan and North Korea agreed on the encounter at informal talks between their officials in the Chinese city of Shenyang earlier this month, on the sidelines of a gathering of the two countries’ Red Cross societies, the ministry said.
Sakie Yokota met Sunday morning with the head of a group supporting the families of Japanese abductees and said she remains confident that her daughter is alive, according to a statement issued by the group.
“We are only thinking about rescuing all the abductees, and we went (to Mongolia) to that end,” she was quoted as telling Tsutomu Nishioka, chairman of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea.
“Our confidence about Megumi’s survival has not been shaken at all,” she was quoted as saying.
Some information about their daughter may have been provided, but it remains uncertain whether the latest developments will lead to any breakthrough on the abductees. The issue has prevented Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalizing relations.
Yokota’s parents had long hoped to meet their granddaughter, who lives in North Korea and is also known as Kim Hye Gyong. But some experts believe Pyongyang may seek to exploit the meeting as a step toward trying to finally bring the abductees issue to a close, which Japan has no intention of allowing.
Shigeo Iizuka, representative of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, told reporters he believes the Yokotas had a growing desire to meet their granddaughter amid the stalemate on the abduction issue, given Shigeru Yokota’s advanced age.
“I have not heard anything (about the meeting) from the Yokotas or the government . . . and I want to hear the details of the meeting and how it took place,” Iizuka said.
Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the group, said, “The abductees’ group had decided not to seek a meeting (between the Yokotas and their granddaughter) in North Korea, but it had not ruled out such a meeting in a third country.
“It was good that the meeting took place in Mongolia . . . but we have to take seriously the fact that Megumi was not there.”
Tokyo continues to demand that Pyongyang reinvestigate the abduction cases.
The Japanese and North Korean Red Cross societies are scheduled to meet again in Shenyang for two days from Wednesday, with the participation of government officials from the two nations.
Japan is expected to again send Keiichi Ono, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia Division, to hold another round of informal talks with his North Korean counterpart.
The Foreign Ministry embraced the meeting between the Yokotas and their granddaughter as a positive development, and plans to seek the reopening of intergovernmental talks, ministry officials said.
Formal talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang have been suspended since North Korea’s December 2012 launch of what it claimed was a satellite and other countries condemned as a covert ballistic missile test, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted or lured a number of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, including Yokota as she was walking home from school in Niigata Prefecture.
In 2004, Pyongyang repatriated cremated remains it alleged were Yokota’s. However, DNA tests conducted in Japan subsequently disproved that assertion.