A family of four North Korean defectors who came by boat to Aomori earlier this month went to South Korea on Saturday, ending a two-week stir that spotlighted economic difficulties confronting the impoverished communist country.
The couple and their two adult sons left Japan via Narita airport after the government, citing “humanitarian viewpoints and respects for human rights,” granted their request to go to South Korea.
“Liberty, democracy, human rights!” yelled one of the defectors as they arrived at the international airport in Incheon, west of Seoul.
He appeared to be the father, but it was difficult to confirm because they had most of their faces covered with big white masks and wore hats.
“I feel good,” the man told reporters. He also said they were in fine health. Airport security officials quickly escorted the family away.
Japanese TV aired video images of the four boarding an airplane at Narita, with the boarding bridge covered with blue sheets to protect their privacy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government granted their request to go to South Korea as a humanitarian gesture.
“I hope they can live in a free world, in an environment where they can feel safe,” Abe said in a speech in Nagasaki.
It is the first time Japan has sent North Koreans to a third country since a law went into force last June to help such defectors.
It remains uncertain how the government will implement the law if North Korean defectors request permanent residency in Japan.
The four who left Saturday are reportedly a husband in his late 50s and his wife in her early 60s, and their sons in their 20s and 30s. They all wore surgical masks when appearing before reporters at the airport to hide their faces.
They reportedly said they left North Korea because of poverty in their homeland.
According to their account, they set out May 27 from a port near the northeastern city of Chongjin. They arrived June 2 at Fukaura port in Aomori Prefecture in a 7-meter open wooden boat.
They said they were initially heading to South Korea but changed their route and headed across the Sea of Japan out of fear of tight security near the border between the two Koreas.
On June 6, they were moved to an immigration control facility in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, after they were granted provisional entry to Japan so the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau could process landing permits for them.
Easing the way for the government to issue the permits, police decided not to build a case against them for violating the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, and prosecutors suspended an indictment of the younger son for possessing a small quantity of amphetamines.
Foreign Ministry officials declined to comment on how the four will be treated in South Korea, saying the matter is now out of Japanese jurisdiction.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment, citing its policy of not commenting on North Korean defectors due to concerns for their safety.
North Koreans are believed to face harsh punishment by the government when their relatives are found to have escaped the communist country.
After arriving in South Korea, defectors usually go through three months of assimilation training. They are entitled to various forms of government assistance, including housing and settlement aid.
Thousands of North Koreans have fled their isolated homeland to escape poverty and political oppression in recent years, often by land through China and Southeast Asia.
More than 10,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953. At least 130 people who have fled North Korea through third countries are currently in Japan.
In 1987, 11 crew members of a North Korean ship arrived at a port in western Japan and later defected to South Korea via Taiwan.
S. Korean abductee
SEOUL – A South Korean man kidnapped by the communist North more than 30 years ago has escaped and is now safe with South Korean authorities in China, an activist said Saturday.
Lee Han Seop, 59, fled the North last month and is at a South Korean consulate in China, said Choi Sung Yong, the head of a group of relatives of South Koreans allegedly kidnapped by the North.
The activist declined to specify which consulate Lee was staying in, out of concerns for the escapee’s safety.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also declined to comment on the report, citing its policy of not commenting on North Korean defectors for safety concerns.
North Koreans are believed to face harsh punishment by Pyongyang’s hardline government when their relatives are found to have escaped.
Lee could not bring his North Korean wife and their two children with him because of “difficulties,” Choi said.
The abductee ended up in the North when his fishing boat was seized off South Korea’s east coast in 1975, Choi said.
WAKAYAMA (Kyodo) The government will launch a shortwave radio program as early as on July 9 aimed at Japanese abductees possibly surviving in North Korea, Kyoko Nakayama, the prime minister’s adviser on the abduction issue, said Saturday.
The daily program will carry information on Japan’s efforts to rescue the abductees and on the victims’ hometowns, Nakayama told a meeting on the abduction issue in Wakayama Prefecture.
The parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 from Niigata Prefecture when she was aged 13, recorded a message for the program, Nakayama said.
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