Japan should not send food aid to North Korea unless Japanese citizens allegedly abducted by the country’s agents are freed and a perfect system to monitor the distribution of food to civilians is in place, according to one of Japan’s most vocal critics of the communist country.

Katsumi Sato, head of the Modern Korea Institute, a private think tank in Tokyo, said providing food assistance helps sustain the country’s oppressive government and in reality is “inhumane” in regards to its ordinary citizens. “People say aid is a humanitarian issue, but isn’t it also a humanitarian issue that Japanese citizens have been abducted?” Sato asked in an interview, stressing that the Japanese government should make its own citizens its priority. The institute deals with issues concerning the two Koreas and Korean residents in Japan from “a Japanese standpoint.”

The allegation that Megumi Yokota of Niigata Prefecture was abducted at the age of 13 by North Korean agents in November 1977 came to light in the Diet last February. It stemmed from the monthly Modern Korea, published by Sato’s think tank, which reported on the Internet testimony claimed to have been taken from a North Korean defector to the South. There was major media coverage after the story.

The defector reportedly described to the South Korean intelligence agency the circumstances of the girl’s mysterious disappearance 20 years ago while she was on her way home from a badminton club meeting at school. The defector has not been identified and his testimony cannot be independently confirmed.

Later in February, the Japanese government said it suspects nine Japanese have been abducted by North Korea in six incidents in the 1970s. Yokota is not included on the list of the missing, because the government is not yet convinced that North Korea was responsible for her disappearance.

Tokyo believes North Korea abducted Japanese to provide its secret agents with teachers on Japanese language and society. The families of eight missing people, including Yokota’s relations, have formed an association concerned with the alleged abductions. Pyongyang has categorically denied the allegations through its state-owned media.

Regarding food distribution, Sato said there has been no indication that the 500,000 metric tons of rice Japan sent to North Korea in 1995 has actually reached ordinary citizens. “I believe food aid is destined to go to the military and the privileged class,” which accounts for between 4 million and 5 million people, or a fourth of the total population, he said. “How, then, can aid help soothe tensions on the Korean Peninsula?”

Pyongyang recently reported that 134 children died from malnutrition last year alone. Sato claimed the dead must have been from the “hostile class,” which he said consists of about 10 million citizens under systematic discrimination.

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