The father of a Japanese woman who reportedly committed suicide in North Korea after being abducted to the country urged the government Saturday to conduct full investigations into her whereabouts.
The woman, Megumi Yokota, went missing from Japan in 1977 and is said to have killed herself in North Korea in 1993. Her father, 70-year-old Shigeru Yokota, made his plea after hearing a Kyodo News report that his daughter was alive in 1997.
“I cannot simply say, ‘Oh, it’s nice to hear that,’ as I don’t know how credible this information is,” Yokota said. “I can only hope that the government will fully investigate the case as soon as possible.”
A source close to the case told Kyodo News earlier in the day that a close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had unofficially told the Japanese government in 1997 that Yokota was alive in North Korea.
The source, who was in the administration of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1997, quoted Kim Yong Sun as saying, “At least Yokota is alive in North Korea.” Kim was the secretariat at the Workers Party of Korea charged with dealing with Japan.
Yokota’s father said he questions the report’s veracity.
“If the Japanese government had obtained such information back then, why didn’t it take quick action?” he said.
During the Sept. 17 summit talks this year between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim Jong Il, North Korea apologized to Japan for having abducted 13 Japanese. The reclusive country said eight of the 13, including Yokota, had died.
It said Yokota committed suicide in 1993 at a Pyongyang hospital after marrying a North Korean man and having a daughter.
Kazuhiro Araki, director general of a support group for Japanese people abducted to North Korea, said the Kyodo report increases the possibility that Yokota is still alive.
Araki said a person close to then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto went to North Korea on a secret mission in 1997 and brought back the information.
However, Araki said he heard that the secret negotiations ceased after the person died a year later and the prime minister lost that liaison.
“This is very important information because if different sources confirm that Ms. Yokota was alive in 1997, it only casts doubt on North Korea’s claim that she died in 1993, and the possibility that she is alive is ever increasing,” Araki said.
The 76-year-old mother of Keiko Arimoto said she is angered that the Japanese government did nothing after obtaining such information. Arimoto is one of the eight Japanese whom North Korea has reported as dead.
“Hearing the news, I am more convinced that North Korea’s claim that eight abductees died, including Ms. Yokota, is absurd. But moreover, I am angry,” said Arimoto’s mother, Kayoko. “What did the Japanese government do for the past five years after obtaining such information?”
Arimoto, then a student at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, was taken to North Korea in 1983 at the age of 23 after meeting North Korean agents while studying in Europe. Pyongyang said she had given her consent to enter North Korea and said she died there Nov. 4, 1988, at the age of 28.
Arimoto’s mother said the Japanese government did nothing to help after a group comprised of the families of abductees was formed in 1997.
“I assume that it did not matter to the government if one or two Japanese nationals were abducted, and that kind of thinking is more or less the same as that of the North Korean regime,” she said.
“I demand former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and people who were involved in the negotiations with North Korea apologize and offer an acceptable explanation,” she added.
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