Family members of Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korea decades ago on Sunday called for progress in bilateral negotiations to bring home their loved ones at an early date.

At a convention in Tokyo, the family members said they are running out of time due to the aging of abduction victims’ parents and urged the government to make good use of any opportunity to win the return of abductees.

A cumulative total of about 13.4 million signatures collected across Japan in support of the families were shown at the gathering.

More than 1,000 people attended the convention, but Shigeo Iizuka, the 80-year-old leader of a group of abductee families, was absent due to poor health.

On his behalf, Takuya Yokota, 50, the secretary-general of the group and brother of abduction victim Megumi, said, “My father is in hospital and I feel keenly we’re running out of time.”

“We want (the government) to negotiate strongly, demanding the return home of all victims all at once,” Yokota said.

The signatures have been collected since the group of abductee families, the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, was created in 1997.

All of the more than 400 cardboard boxes containing lists of signatures kept by the government were made public for the first time in order to strengthen the momentum of the movement for the return of the abductees.

Sakie Yokota, the 83-year-old mother of Megumi, expressed gratitude for the signatures. “In the hot weather and in the cold, many people made efforts and gave us a great deal of power,” she said.

“The number (of signatures) accounts for about 10 percent of the population, and this is truly the will of the people,” Koichiro Iizuka, 42-year-old son of abductee Yaeko Yaguchi. “We want (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un to feel (the meaning of) this number and make a decision.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also attended the convention, reiterated his determination to hold a summit with Kim with no preconditions.

“I’m determined to engage directly with Kim in order to break the shell of mutual distrust between Japan and North Korea,” he said.

But Abe added, “Regrettably, it’s true that we don’t have a clear idea when a meeting between Japan and North Korea can be held.”

Acknowledging that “it is not so easy” to resolve the abduction issue, Abe said: “The important thing is that all Japanese people are united and show their strong determination to achieve the early return home of all abduction victims.”

“I myself will take every opportunity to act decisively,” he added.

Akihiro Arimoto, the 90-year-old father of abductee Keiko, expressed his hope, saying, “I believe (Abe’s) remarks reflect his confidence of success.”

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