Saturday marked the first anniversary of the death of Shigeru Yokota, a torchbearer of Japan’s campaign to bring home citizens abducted by North Korea after his teenage daughter, Megumi, was taken in 1977.
Since his death, Japan has seen little progress in efforts to resolve the abduction cases, though Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated the issue remains a top priority for his administration, as it was for his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
Suga, like Abe, has urged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet “without preconditions.” But there has been no breakthrough in the abduction issue and broader bilateral relations.
Commenting on the anniversary of Yokota’s death, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato expressed regret about the Suga government not being able to advance the abduction issue, which has prevented Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalizing diplomatic ties.
“It has been a year since (his death) but regrettably we have not achieved the return of even a single abductee,” Kato told a news conference Friday. “The Suga Cabinet would like to do its best toward the return of all abduction victims as soon as possible.”
Some anticipated the planned participation of North Korea in the postponed Tokyo Olympics this summer could lay the foundation for talks on the issue between the two countries, but such hopes have diminished as the North has pulled out from the event, citing safeguarding its athletes from COVID-19 infections as its reason.
Megumi Yokota, a 13-year-old junior high school student at the time, disappeared on her way home from school in the Sea of Japan coastal city of Niigata on Nov. 15, 1977. The family moved to Niigata after Shigeru Yokota was assigned to the city by his employer, the Bank of Japan.
For many years, Yokota and his wife, Sakie, 85, searched for Megumi with no help or clue as to what had happened to her, until evidence emerged in the early 1990s indicating North Korean state involvement in her disappearance and that of other Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yokota made public his daughter’s name and images and urged the nation to support a movement calling for the repatriation of Japanese abductees.
Heading the association of families of those who fell victim to the state crime, established in 1997, Shigeru along with Sakie became symbolic figures of the movement.
Expectations of a resolution rose in 2014, when North Korea agreed to reinvestigate the whereabouts of missing Japanese nationals.
But it suspended the reinvestigation with no apparent progress in 2016 following Japan’s toughening of sanctions against it.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents but alleges their involvement in many more disappearances.
While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Japan continues to seek the return of the remaining 12 people. Of the 12, Pyongyang claims that eight, including Megumi, have died and four others never entered the country.
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