• Kyodo

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Japan’s top government spokesman on Tuesday called on the international community during an online symposium at the United Nations to help secure the return of victims of North Korean’s past abductions.

"The abductions issue is a critical issue concerning the sovereignty of Japan and the lives and safety of Japanese citizens. … We will do our utmost without missing any opportunities to ensure that all abductees return home as soon as possible," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato.

"I strongly hope this symposium will intensify momentum within the international community toward demanding the resolution of the abductions issue as a global issue," he said.

The symposium, which Japan co-hosted with the United States, the European Union and Australia, saw family members of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s deliver heartfelt testimonies highlighting their plight, along with relatives of American, Romanian and Thai nationals also believed to have been taken by North Korea.

"The DPRK is responsible for countless human rights abuses including these abductions and we will continue to work closely with our friends and our allies, including Japan, to resolve these longstanding injustices," said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, using the acronym of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Kato, who serves as Japan's minister in charge of the abductions issue, reiterated that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions in order to break the deadlock in bilateral relations.

The Japanese family members who made appearances were Takuya Yokota, the younger brother of Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped on her way home from school in Niigata at the age of 13 in November 1977, and Koichiro Iizuka, the eldest son of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in around June 1978 when she was 22.

Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents but suspects their involvement in many more disappearances.

While five were repatriated in 2002, Japan continues to seek the return of the remaining 12. Of the 12, Pyongyang claims that eight, including Megumi Yokota, have died and four others never entered the country.

Symposiums on the North Korean abduction issue had been held every year in May at the U.N. headquarters in New York, but the event was not organized last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, the North Korean delegation to the United Nations released a statement in protest at the online symposium, saying the issue of the abductions of Japanese nationals has already been resolved.

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