A North Korean agent suspected of being involved in the 1983 abduction of Keiko Arimoto in Europe entered Japan between 1978 and 1979 when other Japanese vanished, according to sources.

Kim Yu Chol entered Japan at least twice during the two years when eight Japanese were abducted and an attempt on two others occurred, the sources said, adding it is the first time the man’s presence in Japan was confirmed.

In 1978, three Japanese couples were abducted, from Niigata, Fukui and Kagoshima prefectures, and another couple were almost kidnapped in Toyama Prefecture. In addition, Yaeko Taguchi, a native of Saitama Prefecture, was also kidnapped to North Korea, probably from Tokyo, that year. North Korea last Tuesday confirmed that she and Arimoto had died.

Also in 1978, Hitomi Soga and her mother, Miyoshi, disappeared from Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Island. Pyongyang said Soga is still alive.

At Tuesday’s historic summit between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the North listed 14 Japanese it had abducted, claiming eight had died and four were alive. Pyongyang said it had no record of entry of one missing Japanese, and also listed Soga as an additional surviving victim.

The agent is believed to have been involved in the abduction of Arimoto, who was a 23-year-old student at the time, and may have also entered Japan during the 1980s, according to the sources, adding that public safety authorities have apparently confirmed this.

It was already known that Kim acted in Europe with Red Army Faction fugitives wanted in the 1970 hijacking of a Japan Airlines jetliner to Pyongyang, where they were granted asylum.

Kim served as a deputy consul general of the North Korean Consulate General in Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia, now Croatia, from 1981 and worked alongside the hijackers and their wives in Austria and Yugoslavia from 1981 to 1983, as well as other possible locations.

Kim reportedly conspired with hijacking suspect Kimihiro Abe, now 54, and Megumi Yao, 46, the ex-wife of one of the hijackers, to abduct Arimoto. Yao testified this year in court that she lured the student from London to Copenhagen with a false job offer. From there, the trio are believed to have spirited her off to North Korea via Moscow.

One of the hijackers, who was later arrested in Japan and has since completed a prison term, secretly entered Japan in 1985. Around that time, wives of five of the hijackers also visited Japan.

Authorities are investigating whether Kim contacted the hijacker and the wives in Japan at that time, the sources said.

Kim belonged to the External Liaison Department of Pyongyang’s Workers Party of Korea, which is in charge of undercover operations. He served as an instructor for the hijackers, the sources said.

When Kim entered Japan, he applied for a visa under other people’s names. Taking advantage of his fluent Japanese ability, he once posed as an interpreter of a North Korean delegation, they said.

Kim was with the hijackers when they met with Japanese reporters in Pyongyang in 1972, the sources said.

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