• Kyodo

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U.S. President George W. Bush, meeting with the mother of abductee Megumi Yokota at the White House, promised Friday to press North Korea to return abductees and respect human rights.

Bush also met with North Korean defectors.

“We strongly will work for freedom so that the people of North Korea can raise their children in a world that’s free and hopeful, and so that moms will never again have to worry about an abducted daughter,” Bush told reporters, speaking along with the participants in the Oval Office after the meeting.

Bush met with Sakie Yokota, 70, and her son, Takuya, 37, along with four North Korean defectors — former military officer Kim Sung Min and a family with a 6-year-old daughter. The family defected to South Korea via the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, China, in May 2002.

“I really felt President Bush’s stance that he will absolutely not forgive evils,” Yokota said at a news conference after the meeting, the first by Bush with a relative of a Japanese abductee.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese, including Megumi Yokota, in the late 1970s and 1980s, reportedly to use their identities and get them to teach Japanese language and culture to spies. Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977, has become a symbol of the abductee issue in Japan.

“I have just had one of the most moving meetings since I’ve been the president,” Bush said.

“It is hard to believe that a country would foster abduction. It’s hard for Americans to imagine that a leader of any country would encourage the abduction of a young child. It’s a heartless country that would separate loved ones,” he said. “And yet, that’s exactly what happened to this mom as a result of the actions of North Korea.

“If North Korea expects to be respected in the world, that country must respect human rights and human dignity and must allow this mother to hug her child again,” Bush said.

Acknowledging the hardships of the North Korean defectors, Bush said the family “did not want to have their child grow up in a society that was brutal, a society that did not respect the human condition.”

The family — Kan Guan Chol, 31, his wife Li Son Hee, 31, and Kim Han Mi — made headlines while seeking asylum, due especially to video footage of the mother and child struggling with Chinese police at the consulate gate.

Yokota gave to Bush a letter as well as messages, including from other Japanese abductees’ relatives visiting with her. The messages were written below photographs of abductees before they were taken to North Korea.

The other relatives in Yokota’s entourage were Teruaki Masumoto, 50, whose older sister, Rumiko, was abducted in 1978 at age 24; Kenichi Ichikawa, 61, whose younger brother, Shuichi, vanished in 1978 at age 22; and Shigeo Iizuka, 67, whose younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped in 1978 when she was 22.