Ex-North Korean saboteur Kim Hyon Hui stressed Thursday to relatives of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang that their loved ones may still be alive.

Although Kim, who has not been in the North since the 1980s, offered no new revelations in a meeting with the abductees’ kin in Tokyo, she said Pyongyang would “properly” treat the kidnap victims and would not execute them, according to Tsutomu Nishioka, chairman of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, a private group.

Kim “kept telling us to remain hopeful, that (our relatives) were still alive,” Nishioka said during a news conference after the meeting. “She said Pyongyang probably declared the abductees dead because they were being used for secret missions. She said North Korea is not an orderly country like Japan and it is quite possible that it may one day reveal that (the abductees) were alive.”

Kim had heard Pyongyang originally intended to turn the abductees into spies but gave up, not being able to fully trust them, and turned them into teachers instead, Nishioka quoted her as saying.

Kim had met relatives of abductees Megumi Yokota and Yaeko Taguchi in Nagano and arrived in Tokyo around noon Thursday. For about 1 1/2 hours, she met with other relatives, including the parents of Keiko Arimoto, who was studying English in London and vanished in 1983 at age 23 after writing to her parents from Copenhagen.

Pyongyang has claimed Arimoto died in a carbon monoxide accident in 1988.

Arimoto’s mother, Kayoko, said she truly felt Kim was earnestly trying to be of help to the abductees’ kin.

Kim “gave us hope and encouragement,” Kayoko Arimoto said. “We don’t believe anything North Korea says, so we will continue trying to save (our relatives), although I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do so.”

Teruaki Masumoto, whose sister, Rumiko, was abducted to Pyongyang in 1978 from a campsite in Kagoshima Prefecture, asked the government to prioritize the North Korean abductee issue and called for further sanctions on the hermit state.

“We know that without pressure, North Korea will not move,” Masumoto said. “We want the government to think of ways to force Pyongyang to take immediate action.”

Kim, traveling as a Japanese, downed a Korean Air jetliner, killing all 115 on board, in 1987. South Korea later sentenced her to death but afterward pardoned and freed her.

She was allowed into Japan even though the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law prohibits foreign nationals who have been sentenced to one year or more in prison — with the exception of political prisoners — from entering the country.

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