Relatives of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea decades ago expressed hope that Friday’s inter-Korean summit and a subsequent U.S.-North Korea summit will move the long-stalled abduction issue forward and ultimately lead to the return of their loved ones.
“I hope things will take a turn for the better,” said Sakie Yokota, 82, whose daughter Megumi was abducted in 1977 at age 13. Yokota was watching live news reports on the historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the border village of Panmunjom.
While expressing hope for an early resolution of the issue out of concern for the health of her 85-year-old husband, Shigeru, Yokota said she is remaining level-headed in “seeing how things will unfold,” given North Korea has previously backtracked every time there were apparent signs of progress on the issue.
The leaders held the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade on Friday, focusing on denuclearizing the North and ending their decades-old confrontation, raising hope among aging relatives that the diplomatic developments will also pave the way for the return of the abductees.
At a Japan-U.S. summit in Florida last week, U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to raise the abduction issue involving those taken in the 1970s and ’80s at a meeting with Kim in May or early June.
Shigeo Iizuka, the 79-year-old head of a group representing abductees’ families, met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday and called on him to “respond effectively” to the rapidly changing situation and resolve the issue. Iizuka’s younger sister Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped when she was 22.
The government officially lists 17 citizens as having been abducted by North Korea and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances.
Five of the 17 were repatriated to Japan in 2002 but no major progress has been made since then. Pyongyang maintains eight of them died and the other four never entered the country.
At a rally after the meeting with Abe, Nobuhiro Matsuki, 45, whose older brother Kaoru went missing at age 26, said he wants Pyongyang to retract its statement that some of the abductees are already dead. “My brother is now 64. I just wonder how he is feeling now,” he said.
“We will not be able to reunite and hug each other or talk about the old days if they return after our health deteriorates. I cannot wait anymore,” said Shoichi Osawa, 82, whose brother Takashi may have been abducted by North Korea when he was 27.