• Kyodo

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Family members of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s urged the government on Wednesday to work for the swift repatriation of victims, following the launch of a new Cabinet and the appointment of a new minister in charge of the abduction issue.

“Please return the victims to their home country as soon as possible,” Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was abducted in 1977 at the age of 13, told reporters at her home in Kawasaki.

With the victims’ family members aging, the 84-year-old Yokota said parents are unlikely to see their abducted children again. Her husband, Shigeru, a central figure in efforts to bring back the abductees, died at age 87 in June without being reunited with Megumi.

With the new chief Cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, again assuming the ministerial post of tackling the abduction issue, Yokota said she pins her hopes on Kato’s expertise and knowledge. Kato phoned Yokota on Wednesday afternoon.

“There is no time to lose,” Kato said Wednesday at his first news conference after assuming the post.

He also said he will strengthen Japan’s cooperation with its key allies, including the United States, over the abduction issue.

Shigeo Iizuka, 82, who heads a group of the victims’ families, also expressed renewed hope for the return of his sister Yaeko Taguchi, after he talked with Kato by phone Wednesday and the minister expressed his resolve to address the abduction issue.

Japan officially lists 17 people as having been abducted by North Korea with five already repatriated. But Pyongyang maintains that eight died, including Megumi Yokota, and that the other four never entered the country.

Among the five allowed to return home in 2002, Kaoru Hasuike, 62, said in a statement, “I would like the Japanese government to send a stronger message to North Korea without further delay.”

Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie, both 65, said through their municipal government in Obama, Fukui Prefecture, “We sincerely hope that (Prime Minister Yoshihide) Suga’s Cabinet will fully resolve the abduction issue.”

The Chimuras were also among the abductees to return to Japan with Hasuike.

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