Many relatives of abductees said Monday they remain skeptical about the government’s decision to send officials to Pyongyang to learn firsthand the status of North Korea’s latest probe into the victims’ fates.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced earlier in the day that the government will dispatch officials to the North Korean capital to be briefed about the probe by members of the special investigation committee launched by Pyongyang in July.
Suga said the decision was made after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed the matter with relevant members of his Cabinet.
“In terms of moving the investigation forward, the government decided it would be worthwhile to emphasize directly to the committee’s members that the abduction issue holds the highest priority for Japan and to press them regarding the status of the probe,” Suga said.
When the officials will go to Pyongyang has not been decided, but it will be soon, he said.
Shigeo Iizuka, head of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, expressed concern about sending delegates to Pyongyang at this time, saying the Japanese side likely won’t learn anything concrete.
“Most of the families of the abductees has said it was premature for Japanese officials to visit Pyongyang all along” since the North proposed the idea last month, Iizuka said. “Most of us haven’t changed our stance.”
Iizuka made the comments following a meeting Monday in Tokyo between abductee families and government officials, including Eriko Yamatani, minister in charge of the abduction issue, and Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.
Yamatani told the families that the government is sending the representatives to keep dialogue with the North open and to strongly demand concrete results from the investigation, according to Iizuka.
Iizuka is the brother of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 at the age of 22.
Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was snatched at age 13 in 1977, was also present at the meeting and expressed hope that the government will take a tough stance in negotiating with Pyongyang.
“It is absurd that the fates of abductees have remained unknown for about 40 years. I’d like (the Japanese officials) to take a clear and serious position on the matter,” Yokota said.
The government officially recognizes that 17 Japanese were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and ’80s. Of them, five returned to Japan in 2002 after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a landmark visit to Pyongyang that year. North Korea claims the remaining 12 have either died or never entered the country.
The National Police Agency meanwhile estimates that as many as 883 missing Japanese may have been abducted by North Korea.
Pyongyang launched a special committee in July to investigate the fates of the abductees and Japan in return lifted some of its unilateral sanctions.
The isolated state was due to release its first report on the new probe around “late summer or early fall,” but it said last month in a meeting with a Japanese delegation led by Ihara that Pyongyang is unable to report concrete results at this time because the investigation is still in the initial stages.
At a meeting in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang on Sept. 29, Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan, suggested Japanese officials visit Pyongyang to learn about the status of the investigation.