Families welcome North’s promise

Kyodo

The parents of a girl abducted and later declared dead by North Korea expressed hope Thursday that there will now be progress in learning what happened and in bringing surviving abductees home, after Pyongyang agreed to reinvestigate the matter.

“I certainly hope that it will bear fruit,” Shigeru Yokota, the 81-year-old father of Megumi Yokota, told reporters at his home in Kawasaki, adding that this could be the “last chance” to make progress on the issue.

“I wish fervently that it will move ahead,” said Sakie Yokota, 78, Megumi’s mother.

They were speaking a day after Japan and North Korea announced an agreement on the matter during bilateral talks in Stockholm.

Megumi Yokota was abducted and taken to North Korea at the age of 13 and is now seen as a symbol of the abduction issue. Her parents have been at the forefront of efforts to get North Korea to allow all surviving abductees to return home. They met for the first time Megumi’s 26-year-old daughter, Kim Eun Gyong, in Mongolia in March.

About two weeks later, there were positive signs on the talks when Japan and North Korea held a director general-level meeting in Beijing for the first time in more than a year.

The Yokotas visited Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, Friday to talk about the saga to elementary school pupils.

Shigeo Iizuka, whose sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted in 1978 at age 22, as well as former abductees Kaoru Hasuike, 56, and his wife Yukiko, 58, also welcomed Pyongyang’s promise to reinvestigate the abductions.

“I welcome it as a chance to settle the issue. I will be hopeful and will keep a close eye on it,” said Iizuka, 75, who heads a group representing the families of abductees.

In a statement released Thursday, the Hasuikes said the reinvestigation is a “step forward.” They expressed their “strong desire for the Japanese government to do all it can and make a resolute decision to ensure the repatriation of abductees, while accurately assessing North Korea’s intent.”

North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese citizens, but said eight of them, including Megumi Yokota, had died.

Japan officially lists 17 people as having been abducted by North Korea, but it suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in many other disappearances.

Five of the 17 were repatriated to Japan in 2002. Among them were the Hasuikes, who now live in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture.