Kim Hyon Hui, a former North Korean agent who downed a Korean Air jetliner in 1987, arrived in Japan early Tuesday to meet relatives of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang.
This is Kim’s first trip outside South Korea, where she now lives, since she was sentenced to death for the bombing and later given a 1990 presidential pardon.
Kim, 48, met with relatives of abductee Yaeko Taguchi later Tuesday and will meet the parents of abductee Megumi Yokota on Wednesday, sources said. Kim has said she met or knew both of the abductees.
“Now I can feel we have established a close relationship” with Kim, Shigeo Iizuka, Taguchi’s elder brother, said at a news conference after meeting with her.
Iizuka said he didn’t obtain any new information on the abduction.
Still, Kim repeatedly said Taguchi “is absolutely alive” and “will come back for sure,” according to Iizuka.
After arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on a government-chartered flight from South Korea, she was taken by car to a cottage in Karuizawa, a summer retreat in Nagano Prefecture.
Iizuka and Taguchi’s 33-year-old son, Koichiro Iizuka, went to the vacation house in the afternoon.
Police have kept Kim under heavy guard and her itinerary secret at the request of the South Korean government due to security concerns.
Top government officials also refused to give details about her stay in Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku only said Kim arrived in Tokyo at 4 a.m. and was staying in a “quiet environment.”
While relatives of the abductees hope Kim can shed fresh light on their loved ones, criticism has grown that the government, by bringing her to Japan, is merely trying to gloss over its failure to make progress in learning the true fate of the abductees still unaccounted for and repatriating any who may still be alive.
Sengoku only expressed hope that the visit will help resolve the stalemate with Pyongyang over the abductions.
“This is the ultimate violation of human rights, infringing the sovereignty of our nation,” Sengoku told reporters. The visit “will hopefully be a break in bringing out the facts regarding the abduction issue.”
According to her autobiography and other sources, Kim, whose father was a North Korean diplomat, was picked to be an agent while in college and was taught Japanese language and culture by Taguchi in the early 1980s.
Kim and a fellow Pyongyang agent, traveling with Japanese passports, were apprehended in Bahrain after planting the bomb on the KAL jet. The crash claimed all 115 people aboard. The two took poison, but authorities managed to keep her from dying. She was later sent to South Korea, where she was sentenced to death in 1989, only to be freed later by presidential pardon.
Kim married in South Korea and has two children.
She met with Taguchi’s 33-year-old son, Koichiro, in March 2009 in Busan, South Korea, and has been telling Japanese government officials since May last year that she had met with Yokota during her training before the airliner sabotage.
Yokota was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977 at age 13 on her way home from school in Niigata Prefecture. Pyongyang has claimed she later died, but her family doesn’t believe this.
Kim’s visit came after Yokota’s parents — Shigeru, 77, and Sakie, 74 — said they wanted to meet face to face to hear about their daughter.
Hiroshi Nakai, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, played a leading role in arranging Kim’s visit. Justice Minister Keiko Chiba issued a special permit for her.
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