MANO, Niigata Pref. – Hitomi Soga, who was abducted to North Korea in 1978 and is now back home here, asked two senior government officials Wednesday to endeavor to get her American husband and two daughters out of the secretive state so they can reunite in Japan.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said he and Cabinet Secretariat special adviser Kyoko Nakayama were urged by Soga, 43, to make every effort to achieve this as soon as possible.
Abe told reporters after meeting Soga at her family home in Mano on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, that he assured her the government will consult with prefectural and municipal authorities to support her.
“I told her, ‘You probably have a lot of worries, being apart from your husband and daughters. The government will consult with the prefecture and town to back you up,’ ” Abe said after the meeting, which went on for more than an hour.
At the beginning of their chat, Abe asked Soga how she was getting on, and she responded, “Little by little, I’m getting used to (life back in Japan).” Her younger sister, Tomiko Kaneko, added, “I’ve also gotten used to it,” drawing laughter from those in the room.
Soga was a 19-year-old assistant nurse at a Sado hospital when she and her mother were abducted to North Korea in 1978. Her mother remains unaccounted for.
Abe was believed to have also discussed with Soga the central government’s efforts to urge the United States to give special consideration to her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, 62, a former U.S. Army sergeant wanted for desertion by Washington. He disappeared while on duty in South Korea along the demilitarized zone in 1965, later turning up in the North.
Jenkins could face arrest and court-martial by U.S. authorities if he comes to Japan. Soga and Jenkins have two daughters, aged 19 and 17.
A Japanese government source described Soga’s situation as “the most unstable” among the five abductees now back in Japan, because of the uncertainty involving her husband. The U.S., which earlier said it would seek Jenkins’ arrest if he is allowed by Pyongyang to come to Japan, has not yet made a final decision on how to handle the case.
Abe also briefed Soga on last week’s normalization talks between Japan and North Korea, held in Kuala Lumpur after a two-year suspension.
Delegates to the Oct. 29-30 negotiations failed to make headway on the abduction issue. Pyongyang repeatedly said Tokyo broke its promise to return the five surviving abductees, who came back to Japan in mid-October on a “visit.” to North Korea after about two weeks. Tokyo meanwhile demanded that the North allow the abductees’ family members out of the country so they can reunite with the five.
Soga and two Japanese couples arrived in Tokyo from Pyongyang on Oct. 15 — their first time back in Japan since they were abducted to North Korea in three separate incidents in 1978.
The Japanese government has decided to keep the five in the country beyond the agreed upon two weeks and called on North Korea to send their children and Soga’s husband to Japan so that the three families can discuss whether they want to remain here.
Abe and Nakayama earlier visited the four other returnees — Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie, both 47, in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, on Sunday, and Kaoru Hasuike, 45, and his wife, Yukiko, 46, in Kashiwazaki, Niigata, on Tuesday.
The officials hope to reflect the wishes of the five abductees and their kin in Japan as well as the governments of their hometowns in adopting plans for their permanent stay in Japan.
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.