SEOUL – A Japanese woman believed to have been kidnapped by North Korea decades ago has been admitted to a Red Cross hospital in the capital, Pyongyang, a support group for relatives of South Korean abductees said Saturday.
Kyoko Matsumoto is possibly suffering from severe vision impairment and complications arising from gout, according to the head of the support group, Choi Seong Ryong, citing a source in Pyongyang.
Some details about her life in North Korea since her abduction were also revealed.
Matsumoto, from the city of Yonago, in Tottori Prefecture, was 29 at the time of her disappearance in 1977.
According to Choi Seong Ryong, the State Security Department, the North’s secret police organization, is supervising Matsumoto’s affairs.
In July 2013, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service released analysis that said that in 2011 Matsumoto moved from the northeastern city of Chongjin, where she had lived for several years, to Pyongyang.
Matsumoto went missing after leaving her home in Yonago on the night of Oct. 21, 1977. In 2006, the Japanese government added her to its official list of abductees, but Pyongyang has said she never entered North Korea.
Meanwhile, a Japanese government official said Tokyo has learned of the claims being made by Choi Seong Ryong, but “no more information is available and we cannot confirm” the credibility of the allegations.
Japan will ask the South Korean government to provide more information and analysis, the official said.
In recent months Tokyo has protested against Pyongyang over its test-firings of ballistic missiles and nuclear experiments, calling on the international community to strengthen economic sanctions against the hermit state.
But behind the scenes, Tokyo has still been exploring ways of reopening “dialogue” with Pyongyang over the abduction issue.
The government has maintained at least 17 Japanese nationals were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, with only five of them having returned.
Pyongyang has claimed all of the remaining 12 died in North Korea or never entered the country. Matsumoto is among the 12.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gained popularity with many voters largely thanks to his tough diplomatic stance against Pyongyang over the abduction issue while he served as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Abe has said the abduction issue is one of his top priorities, but his government has made little progress over the matter in recent years.