National

Father of missing Japanese urges tough Lebanese approach

Megumi Yokota’s father believes Japan should follow the example of the Lebanese government, which in 1979 repatriated its citizens who had been abducted to North Korea, after tough, behind-the-scenes negotiations with the communist government.

“In the case of the Lebanese abductees, the victims’ families appealed to the public and the government responded,” said Shigeru Yokota, whose daughter, the Japanese government believes, was abducted by North Korean agents about 20 years ago. “We, too, are making strong appeals. Why can’t our government take some action?”

A woman, who asked not be named, told the Tokyo-based Nihon Denpa News recently that she and three other Lebanese women were deceived by North Korean agents and taken to Pyongyang in August 1978.

The woman, who now lives in Lebanon, told the news agency that in July 1978 two Asian men came to her secretarial school in Beirut and said they were looking for secretaries to work in a large electronics firm in Japan.

They were seeking to hire people who were single, attractive and able to speak Arabic and French, the news agency said. Some 20 students applied for the job, and the four women were chosen.

But the plane the women boarded took them not to Japan as they believed, but to Pyongyang where they were told to undergo “job training” by learning about North Korea’s regime and ideology, it said.

The parents of the women, having not heard from them after several months, began to investigate the situation. The local media began reporting the case in June 1979. In August that year, two of the four women were taken to Belgrade to call their families to tell them they were in Japan and doing fine.

At the time, a call from North Korea to Lebanon required operator assistance. A direct call to Lebanon could be made from Yugoslavia, which had friendly relations with North Korea. In Yugoslavia, the two women escaped from their North Korean guards and sought refuge at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Belgrade.

After the women told their story, the Lebanese government immediately demanded North Korea return the remaining two women who were held captive. It reportedly received help in negotiations from the Palestine Liberation Organization behind the scenes.

In December 1979, the two women were released and returned to Lebanon. One of them, Siham Shraiteh, was pregnant and later returned to North Korea to deliver the baby.

Shraiteh’s mother, who visited her daughter in Pyongyang in 1990, told the news agency her daughter was married to an American man whose Korean name is Kim Il Woo, and that the couple wanted to leave the country with their three sons.

The Pentagon identified the husband as U.S. Army defector Jerry Parrish, who went to North Korea in 1963 during his service in South Korea, according to the agency. Some sources believe Pyongyang intended to train the European-looking, French-speaking Lebanese women as agents to work in a third country by posing as French citizens.

Takase Hitoshi, the news agency’s chief reporter, said the timing of the Lebanese women’s captivity coincides with the abduction of some Japanese. “The North can no longer say that the abduction was just a frameup. The Lebanese woman has testified to that,” he said.