Japan said it would lift some sanction against North Korea and consider humanitarian aid after the Kim Jong Un regime agreed to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the fate of more than a dozen Japanese citizens the North kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made a full-accounting of the kidnappings as a condition for improved ties with North Korea. In announcing the agreement yesterday in Tokyo, Abe said Japan is willing to “eventually” lift its unilateral sanctions, leaving in place those imposed by the United Nations over North Korea’s weapons programs.
“A complete resolution of the abduction issue is one of the most important issues for the Abe administration,” Abe said. “I am determined that my duties will not be done until the day when the families of every abduction victim are able to embrace their children and I expect this to be the first step towards a comprehensive resolution.”
The North admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, and allowed five of them to return home, saying the others were dead. The North Korean government is suspected of using the kidnap victims to train North Korean spies on Japanese language and culture. Japan says at least 17 people were kidnapped and has insisted on a accounting for all those who have not been returned.
In signs of progress toward an agreement, North Korea permitted the 26-year daughter of one of the victims to visit with her Japanese grandparents at a secret meeting in Mongolia in March. Megumi Yokota, the woman’s mother, was kidnapped at the age of 13 on her way home from school in the coastal city of Niigata in 1977. She later married a South Korean kidnap victim. North Korea says that Yokota died in 1994.
Abe, who visited Pyongyang with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, more than a decade ago to work on behalf of the kidnap victims, has remained closely associated with the campaign for their return. In a policy speech in February 2013, months after winning election as prime minister, Abe said his mission would not be complete until all families of abductees were reunited with their missing relatives.
To contact the reporter on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org