BEIJING – North Korea is not opposed to a recent request by a group of wanted Japanese hijackers for help to return to Japan, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Monday.
The former Red Army Faction members, who hijacked a Japan Airlines jetliner to Pyongyang in 1970, sent a letter to the North Korean government in which they “clearly manifested” their wish to return to Japan, according to the report.
The report did not specify when the government received the letter.
The letter states that the members no longer see any need to stay in North Korea, as most of their family members have gone to Japan, according to the report.
“The DPRK has no objection to their wish to return home,” the report said. The DPRK, which stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is North Korea’s official name.
The four members of the group still in North Korea have expressed a desire to return to Japan in the past. In July 2002, they issued a statement calling on Tokyo to hold talks over their return, indicating they want to travel to Japan even if it would result in their arrest.
Japan has repeatedly demanded that North Korea hand over the four, who hijacked the JAL jet named Yodo-go.
Japanese authorities suspect that some of the hijackers may also have been involved in kidnapping Japanese to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Pyongyang has said in the past that any decision to leave North Korea is up to the four.
KCNA said Monday, “The Yodo-go issue is an internal problem of the Japanese, which must be directly discussed between the Japanese government and the former Red Army Faction members.
“If the Japanese (government) meets with (the hijackers) and takes them by following necessary procedures, the Yodo-go issue will be fully resolved.”
The KCNA report may indicate that the North Korean government hopes to resume normalization talks quickly by settling this issue.
Nine members of the Red Army Faction hijacked the plane on a domestic flight from Tokyo on March 31, 1970.
Three of the hijackers have since died and two who later returned to Japan were convicted of the hijacking.