SEOUL – A facility in the North Korean city of Sinuiju, near the border with China, is being used to provide accommodation for more than 10 Japanese nationals, including those abducted by Pyongyang agents decades ago, reporters learned Saturday.
Residents at the facility include a Japanese woman in her 30s, a source familiar with relations between the two countries said, suggesting that other abductees not yet recognized by Tokyo, as well as their children, may be among the residents.
Tokyo is aware of such information, the source added.
On March 12, following intergovernmental talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang in the Chinese city of Shenyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a investigation into all Japanese nationals who have resided in the Stalinist state since the 1930s, the source said.
A so-called special investigative committee was formed to probe outstanding abductee issues, comprising members of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Ministry of State Security — the country’s secret police department that responds directly to Kim — as well as military officials.
The ongoing search for Japanese nationals has been launched under the pretext of a state survey of poverty-stricken households for welfare purposes, the source said, adding that Pyongyang is also looking for the remains of Japanese who have already died.
Eager to make achievements by the 70th anniversary of the launch of the Workers’ Party in October 2015, Kim may attempt to return abductees to Japan before that date with the aim of gaining economic assistance, the source said.
Kim cannot deny the results of an investigation conducted by the regime of his late father, Kim Jong Il, which indicated that eight of the abductees have already died. However, he is expected to describe any return of remaining abductees as a homecoming for Japanese left behind in North Korea when he explains the move to his domestic audience, the source said.
Another source said that when Choe Ryong Hae, then director of the General Political Department of Korean People’s Army, visited China as a special envoy of Kim Jong Un in May 2013, he informed Chinese President Xi Jinping of North Korea’s intention to improve relations with Japan.
Xi is reported to have said only that he understood, reflecting China’s stance of not intervening in North Korea’s domestic affairs, according to the source.
Since North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, China has taken a harsh position against Pyongyang by backing a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against the country, and then steadily implementing those sanctions.
North Korea may have started cooperating with Japan in 2013 as a means of providing itself with some diplomatic leverage in talks with its northern neighbor.
Pyongyang’s launch of the abductee probe follows a promise earlier this year to reopen investigations. In return, Tokyo eased its unilateral sanctions against the hermit kingdom in early July.