LONDON – A Japanese diplomat who last week met the four survivors out of the 14 Japanese nationals North Korea admits abducting in the 1970s and 1980s deflected criticism Monday over his failure to photograph or properly question them.
During a lunch break at the Sept. 17 summit meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Kazuyoshi Umemoto met with the four to confirm their identities.
Umemoto, a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Britain, headed Japan’s summit preparatory headquarters in Pyongyang.
Relatives of the survivors have criticized Umemoto for failing to take photos or obtain evidence from the survivors to verify their identities with family members back in Japan.
“I was allowed only to meet with the survivors in a designated way as a result of negotiations with the North Korean government,” Umemoto said in London.
“If I had been allowed, I could have taken photographs of the survivors or brought back samples of their hair or trimmed fingernails,” he said. “But since I was allowed to meet with each individual or couple for only 30 minutes, I decided it was more important to finish the interviews.”
Asked if North Korea had actually told him what he was and was not allowed to do during meetings with the four survivors, Umemoto admitted: “I do not know about that as I did not directly negotiate with North Korea. I only did what my boss told me to do.”
The interviews were conducted in “rooms prepared and under the control of North Korea,” Umemoto said, indicating he thought the rooms may have been bugged.
“The survivors were very cautious with their words and I avoided asking questions that could have driven them into a corner,” Umemoto said in answer to criticism he failed to get any information about the circumstances of their abductions or desire to return to Japan.
Umemoto met with Shiho Chimura, Fukie Hamamoto, Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo.
Chimura and Hamamoto disappeared July 7, 1978, from Obama, Fukui Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast. Hasuike and Okudo went missing July 31 the same year from Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, also on the Sea of Japan coast.
He also met with the daughter of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted to North Korea at age 13 in 1977 from the city of Niigata and is one of the eight listed as dead.
Umemoto admitted that the delegation, caught off guard by the meeting with the survivors in Pyongyang, was not properly prepared.
“If we had known that we would be allowed to meet with the survivors, we could have prepared more and heard from the relatives of the survivors in advance,” he said. “We could have added investigators (who are well-informed about the abductees) to the Japanese delegation,” Umemoto said.
North Korea told Japan that Yokota and seven others are dead, five are alive, and the whereabouts of one other person is unknown.
The fifth survivor is believed to be Hitomi Soga, a female nurse who went missing from Sado Island in the Sea of Japan in 1978, at the age of 19, with her mother, Miyoshi.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.