The family of a Chiba Prefecture woman who has been missing for more than 30 years filed a lawsuit against the state Wednesday, demanding that she be officially recognized as having been abducted to North Korea.

Relatives of Noriko Furukawa, who disappeared at age 18 after she left home in July 1973, filed the suit with the Tokyo District Court. It is the first suit to demand state recognition of an abduction victim.

In the lawsuit, the relatives accuse the government of not providing specific procedures for such recognition under the abduction victim support law. The family said that the absence of such procedures means relatives of missing persons are unable to apply for official recognition.

The family also demanded that the government collect information on missing people who are not officially recognized as being abduction victims and try to bring them home.

A citizens’ group investigating suspected abductions has included Furukawa on its list of 33 Japanese whom it believes were abducted. The group is called the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to N. Korea.

Furukawa is among 16 people who disappeared between 1968 and 1991. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations suspects they were all abducted to North Korea.

The federation sent statements in March to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and Iwao Uruma, commissioner of the National Police Agency, urging them to find out the truth.

The federation believes that seven of the 16, including Furukawa, were “highly likely abducted” by North Korea.

A former North Korean agent who defected to South Korea said in 1997 that he had seen a woman who resembled Furukawa at a Pyongyang hospital in 1991.

In January 2004, Chiba Prefectural Police accepted a written accusation submitted by Furukawa’s family against unknown suspects for abducting her to another country.

Police have been unable to determine whether any abduction took place, much less whether North Korea was involved.

The government has recognized 15 Japanese citizens as victims of North Korea’s state-sponsored abductions, including five who were repatriated to Japan in 2002.

The five are Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike, Yasushi and Fukie Chimura, and Hitomi Soga.

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