In their first message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since their group formed in 1997, families of Japanese nationals abducted to the country decades ago said they do not oppose the normalization of diplomatic ties if abductees are immediately returned home.
In the message, sent Sunday, the families asked Kim to return all abductees immediately, saying that they “do not intend to oppose normalizing Japan-North Korea diplomatic relations” and that they won’t try to elicit secrets from the victims who return.
The message said the families only “want to live quiet lives with the victims.”
“We’ve decided to deliver a humanitarian message, instead of only applying pressure to North Korea using mainly economic sanctions,” said Sakie Yokota, 83, whose daughter Megumi was kidnapped to North Korea in 1977 at the age of 13.
“This is one way (for the victims) to return home.”
Shigeo Iizuka, the head of the group, said the families want the abductees to be returned as soon as possible, but that the group also wants the government to take a step-by-step approach before proceeding with any meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim.
As the first step, Iizuka said, the families want U.S. President Donald Trump to take up the abduction issue during his planned meeting with Kim later this month.
“We want (the president) to tell North Korea to return the Japanese. It will not move forward at all unless Kim makes the decision,” Iizuka said.
Iizuka’s younger sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was kidnapped in 1978 when she was 22.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abductees but suspects North Korea’s involvement in even more disappearances. Five were repatriated in 2002 under an initiative led by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
In the latest development, a government official revealed Friday that North Korea has informed Japan that Minoru Tanaka, a Hyogo Prefecture native who vanished in 1978, is living in Pyongyang with his wife and children.
Japan has also been informed that Tatsumitsu Kaneda, who used to work with Tanaka at the same noodle shop in Kobe and disappeared at age 26, is also living in North Korea with his wife and children, according to the official.
Tanaka went missing in 1978 after departing from Narita airport for Vienna. According to a man believed to be a former North Korean agent, the proprietor of the ramen restaurant where Tanaka worked was also a covert operative and helped lure him abroad to be abducted.
The following year, Kaneda disappeared after telling people around him that he was going to Tokyo to meet with Tanaka.