SEOUL - The son of a Japanese woman abducted by North Korea in the 1970s was among the group of nine defectors recently sent from Laos back to the reclusive country, a South Korean newspaper reported Thursday.
Quoting diplomatic sources, the Donga Ilbo said the nine men and women were captured in Laos, where they arrived via China, and sent back to North Korea. One was reported as the son of Kyoko Matsumoto, who disappeared at age 29 and whom Tokyo officially designated as an abductee of North Korea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday that the government was trying to verify the report with the cooperation of the other nations involved.
Matsumoto vanished after leaving her home in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast on the night of Oct. 21, 1977. In November 2006, the government added her to the official list of abductees, but Pyongyang has denied she ever entered North Korea.
The sources said there was information Matsumoto had a son in his mid-20s and that he could have been the 23-year-old man in the group of defectors, according to the Donga Ilbo, which said South Korea was also trying to verify the information.
“I’m surprised to hear that (she) had a son,” said Hajime Matsumoto, 66, an older brother of Kyoko Matsumoto.
He said he got a call from the government saying it was trying to verify the information.
A North Korean source, meanwhile, said a missionary who helped the defectors get out of North Korea did not believe the child of a Japanese abductee was among the nine, who were initially reported to be “orphans.” The source threw doubt on the abductee claim, saying, “The activities of Japanese abductees and their family members are strictly controlled (in the North), so I doubt that they are even capable of trying to defect.”
The report said speculation that an important person was among the nine spread when they were flown back from Laos under escort of North Korean authorities. Few defectors in the past have been returned by plane.
According to the report, a missionary who helped the defectors get out of North Korea said they were detained by authorities in northern Laos on May 10.
Although the Laotian authorities had told them that Laos would send them to South Korea, it held them until flying them Monday to Kunming, China. From there they are believed to have been taken to Beijing and then to Pyongyang on Tuesday aboard an Air Koryo flight, the report said.