A Japanese woman has sought asylum in North Korea after entering the country illegally during a trip to China in August, Foreign Ministry officials said Tuesday.
The officials confirmed the startling report earlier in the day by Pyongyang’s official (North) Korean Central News Agency, which said North Korea had informed Tokyo of the woman’s existence through diplomatic channels in Beijing.
It is the first time for a Japanese national to apply for asylum in the reclusive state since 1970, when Red Army Faction members hijacked a Japan Airlines jetliner to Pyongyang and remained there, officials said.
KCNA identified the woman as Kazumi Kitagawa, 29, and said she was being questioned by North Korean authorities. She entered North Korea via China, it said.
Although Foreign Ministry officials refused to disclose the woman’s name, age or other personal details, citing privacy reasons, they said they had the impression that her reasons for defecting to North Korea were “personal.”
There is no information to indicate she is a member of an extreme leftwing group or any other political organization, the ministry officials said.
The North Korean government notified Japan on Monday that a Japanese woman recently entered the North illegally via a third country and was being questioned by officials, they said.
Japanese government sources said the incident began in August, when the woman apparently jumped off a sightseeing boat on the Yalu River bordering China and
North Korea during a visit to Dandong, Liaoling Province. She then swam to the North Korean side.
A woman who may have been the reported asylum-seeker visited the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang in April, claiming she wanted to defect to North Korea, ministry officials said. But consulate officials persuaded her not to do so, they said.
It was not immediately clear whether Pyongyang would accept her request to defect.
The Foreign Ministry said it has notified her family of the developments. Officials said the family showed some surprise at the news, but one added that “it did not seem like a bolt out of the blue for them.”
The ministry has yet to receive a formal request from the woman’s family for the government to try to place the woman under Japanese protective custody, they added.
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