NEW YORK – Tokyo exhorted Pyongyang on Thursday to take “concrete action” toward resolving the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, along with its denuclearization.
Katsunobu Kato, minister in charge of the abduction issue, made the comments at the U.N. headquarters in New York during a symposium on the human rights situation in North Korea.
Referring to the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit, he said, “It is important that the United States raise the issue of abduction and entice action from North Korea.”
“We must maintain ‘maximum pressure’ against North Korea” until Pyongyang takes such action “toward denuclearization and resolution of human rights issues, including abduction,” he said. “The families of the abductees consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002 and Pyongyang maintains that eight have died and the other four never entered the country.
U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to take up the issue during his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is expected to be held by early June.
Among the participants in Thursday’s symposium were the parents of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who died last year soon after he was released from the North in a coma following more than 17 months’ imprisonment.
“The only thing we can do is rub their noses in this. It embarrasses them,” his mother Cindy said, in reference to the North Korean leadership. “We need to stand up for Otto … I can’t let Otto die in vain.”
Other participants included two family members of Japanese abductees — Takuya Yokota and Koichiro Iizuka. Yokota’s older sister Megumi was taken from Niigata Prefecture while on her way home from school in 1977. She was 13 at the time. Iizuka’s father, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped in 1978 at age 22 from an unknown location.