The head of a group representing the families of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s welcomed the appointment Wednesday of Eriko Yamatani as the new state minister in charge of the issue, expressing hope she “can quickly perform her job.”
Shigeo Iizuka told reporters gathered outside his home in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, that Yamatani “has always shared our sentiments over the abduction issue and has been calling for the issue to be resolved soon.”
“As a minister, I want her to give her expert opinion (on the abduction issue) to Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe,” Iizuka said, and urged the new minister to “focus on rescuing” the abductees.
Iizuka, the 76-year-old brother of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in 1978 at age 22, was displeased at not being fully informed about the change of abduction minister. This is a crucial time, with North Korea expected to soon issue the first report of its reinvestigation into the abductees’ whereabouts.
But he was hopeful that Yamatani will be able to prod North Korea to issue a credible report about the fates of the abductees, including the 12 Japanese on Tokyo’s official list of 17 abduction victims. The other five abductees on the list returned to Japan in 2002 following a landmark visit to Pyongyang by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The long-stalled abduction issue remains a stumbling block between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which have no diplomatic ties. In the most recent development showing that Pyongyang is serious about investigating the abductees’ fate, the North launched a special committee in July to look into the matter in return for a lifting of sanctions.