Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed to the families of North Korean kidnap victims on Thursday his government’s vow to bring the abductees back home to Japan in cooperation with the United States.
In a meeting with the relatives at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo, Abe said he had also expressed this resolve in his address at the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York earlier this month.
Also before the U.N. assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump had referred to Megumi Yokota, the daughter of Shigeru and Sakie Yokota who was abducted by North Korea in 1977 at age 13 and has become a symbol of the abductees’ plight.
Amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, the families of some of the abductees have raised concerns that the issue might be taking a backseat.
“As the United States is willing to cooperate in resolving the issue, we will continue to emphasize its importance to the international community,” Abe said at the meeting, which was open to the media.
Praising Abe’s speech in New York, Shigeo Iizuka, 79, who heads a group representing families of kidnap victims, said it is important to realize the prime minister’s pledge. His younger sister Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped in 1978 when she was 22.
Sakie Yokota, the 81-year-old mother of Megumi, who was also present, said, “We just expect (the government) to achieve results.”
The meeting took place shortly before Abe dissolved the House of Representatives for a general election next month. Opposition forces have criticized Abe for creating a political vacuum at a time of escalating tensions over North Korea.
Iizuka told reporters after the meeting that he had come anticipating “good news” as they were asked to visit the Prime Minister’s Office. But he said they did not receive any new information.
The government officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in other disappearances of Japanese citizens. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight — including Megumi Yokota — have died and the other four never entered the country.