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A North Korean spy is now on the wanted list of the Japanese police for directing a plot to kidnap a Japanese national to North Korea in 1977. It is the first time that an arrest warrant has been issued for a North Korean directly involved in a kidnapping case. If he is arrested, it will shed light on other similar cases as well.

Investigations have revealed that Mr. Yutaka Kume, then a security guard at Tokyo’s Mitaka city hall, disappeared from a beach in the town of Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, in September of that year. Mr. Kume is one of 15 Japanese nationals who the government says were abducted by North Korean agents from the 1970s to the 1980s.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department and the Ishikawa prefectural police, Kim Se Ho, in conspiracy with several North Korean residents in Japan, approached Mr. Kume in Tokyo with an offer of a lucrative trade deal, and took him to the Noto beach in Ishikawa. There, they handed Mr. Kume over to another agent for a boat trip to North Korea across the Sea of Japan.

The National Police Agency is reportedly planning to ask Interpol (the Paris-based International Criminal Police Organization) to put Kim on its international wanted list and to seek his handover from North Korean authorities. Pyongyang claims, however, that Mr. Kume never set foot on North Korean soil. It is unknown where he lives or even whether he is alive.

Kim’s name surfaced after the NPA stepped up investigations of suspected abduction cases following September’s Japan-North Korea summit meeting at which Pyongyang acknowledged that its agents had kidnapped Japanese citizens. At the time, the North said it had no record of Mr. Kume having entered the country. Prior to the meeting, between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Mr. Kim Jong Il, police investigations had made little progress toward finding clues. Now that a lead has been obtained in the Kume case, it must be hoped that substantial progress will be made not only in this particular case but also in the other kidnappings that remain unresolved.

According to the NPA, Kim Se Ho, a senior intelligence official of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party, visited Japan several times between 1977 and 1981 as a member of a trade mission. During this period, a series of abductions took place, suggesting that he might have been involved in these cases.

Kim is charged under the law that prohibits the illegal transfer of any person from this country. A violator would be subject to two to 15 years’ imprisonment. Police say the statute of limitations — seven years in this case — has been suspended because he has not lived in Japan.

Whatever the legal technicalities, the crime must be investigated properly. Now that Kim has been identified as the prime suspect, he must be arrested in accordance with established procedures. The important thing is to show both here and abroad that Japan is a law-abiding nation and that no crime committed here will go unpunished, regardless of the criminal’s identity and nationality.

If he is arrested, no doubt he will be able to answer many crucial questions and, hopefully, help resolve the difficulties facing five abductees who returned home last October, leaving their families behind in Pyongyang. The government must make every effort, using every diplomatic channel possible, to resume talks with North Korea to bring the families to Japan.

That Mr. Kim Jong Il has admitted quilt is certainly progress, but Pyongyang has done very little to unravel the abduction mystery, except to release a dubious status report on a dozen abductees. Japanese police authorities are duty-bound to conduct their own investigations to find out the whole truth.

Two men — a North Korean and a Japanese — are already on an international wanted list. A warrant was issued for both last year. Sin Guan Su is suspected of being involved indirectly in a June 1980 abduction case. Kimihiro Uomoto, one of the Japanese Red Army members who hijacked a Japanese jetliner to North Korea in 1970, is linked to a July 1983 case.

The NPA has so far identified 10 cases involving 15 Japanese nationals. However, the association of kidnap victims and other related groups believe more people must have been abducted. Their belief seems well-grounded, considering the fact, acknowledged by Pyongyang, that abductions had been perpetrated systematically under orders from top leaders.

Investigations are bound to be difficult, but the securing of a warrant for Kim Se Ho cannot but raise expectations that the whole mystery surrounding these state-sponsored abductions, including details of Pyongyang’s involvement, will eventually come to light.

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