• Kyodo

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A former top-ranking North Korean official who defected to South Korea in 1997 said Wednesday he has no knowledge of the abductions of Japanese citizens by Pyongyang agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hwang Jang Yop, a former secretary of the Workers Party of Korea, made the remark when he met with relatives of three Japanese who were kidnapped and taken to North Korea in the late 1970s.

The family members, including Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was snatched in 1977 at age 13, were on a three-day visit to Seoul. They were attempting to boost cooperation with South Koreans to obtain the return of their missing kin, who North Korea says have died.

They met with Hwang and former South Korean President Kim Young Sam at Kim’s house.

Other family members on the trip were Teruaki Masumoto, whose sister Rumiko was abducted in 1978 at age 24, and Shigeo Iizuka, whose sister Yaeko Taguchi was taken to the North in 1978 at age 22.

“(Pyongyang’s claim that) your daughter has died is a lie. I believe she is alive,” Kim told Shigeru Yokota, who heads a group of families of abducted Japanese, during the meeting.

Yokota responded that he and his organization also believe she is alive.

Likewise, Hwang said he does not believe North Korea’s claims that the visitors’ family members are dead, according to Japanese lawmakers who attended the meeting.

Kim told the relatives and the lawmakers that Hwang is the highest ranking official to have defected to the South and “knows a lot of things” about the North Korean regime. Kim indicated that Japan and the United States should arrange visits by Hwang.

“Japanese and South Koreans should unite to protect democracy,” Hwang told reporters after the meeting.

He said he was glad to meet with the Japanese families but he had no knowledge of the abductions before defecting to South Korea.

Hwang has applied for a passport to visit the U.S. and has expressed interest in visiting Japan. He reiterated these wishes during the meeting with the Japanese group, Kim told reporters afterward.

Japanese lawmakers asked Hwang during the meeting to visit Japan, Kim said.

“Now that he is invited to Japan and the U.S., he can visit there, although we do not know when that will be.”

The relatives were accompanied by Katsuei Hirasawa, a House of Representatives member, and three other Japanese lawmakers.

Wednesday’s meeting between Hwang, the relatives and lawmakers came about after Kim told Hwang of the Japanese group’s desire to meet him.

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