Washington (VOA) – Japan will press North Korea to provide an account of the whereabouts of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea between the1970s and 1980s, a senior Japanese official said Thursday.
Tokyo and Pyongyang have been at odds over the fate of about a dozen Japanese abductees since September 2002 when former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a rare visit to Pyongyang and met with then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in his bid to resolve the issue.
During the meeting with the Japanese leader, Kim admitted for the first time that the North abducted 13 Japanese nationals, part of a deal where Tokyo provided Pyongyang with substantial economic aid in exchange for Pyongyang’s pledge to provide a full account of all Japanese abductees.
Later, Pyongyang allowed only five abductees to return home, saying the other abductees were dead, a claim which Tokyo refutes.
“Since North Korean leaders were lying to Japan at the time, we cannot say that the problem has been resolved. We believe this is the firm evidence that the rest of the people are surviving in North Korea,” said Japan’s Minister of State for the Abduction Issue Keiji Furuya through an interpreter in an interview with VOA’s Korean Service.
Furuya became the point man on the abduction issue when the conservative Shinzo Abe government took office in December 2012.
Furuya called on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to work toward resolving the issue quickly, saying inaction will only further isolate the North from the international community.
“If he doesn’t work toward this goal, the country, North Korea, won’t get any support from Japan. And North Korea will be further isolated from the international society,” Furuya warned.
Tokyo believes at least 17 Japanese nationals were abducted by Pyongyang.
The issue, which has been a sticking point in bilateral talks between Pyongyang and Tokyo for over a decade, has recently gained renewed attention from the Japanese public, according to Furuya.
“We collected the signatures from the public to support activities of the organizations working towards abduction issues and in a short period of time we were able to collect more than 10 million signatures, which is significant,” explained Furuya.
The move comes amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear threats, which could complicate Japanese efforts to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table.
Last November, Tokyo and Pyongyang sat at the table to discuss the issue for the first time in four years but following meetings were cancelled because of Pyongyang’s long-range rocket launch in December.
When asked about the prospect of Japan’s seeking bilateral talks with Pyongyang to discuss the abduction issue separate from the Six Party Talks aimed at resolving the North’s nuclear issue, Furuya indicated his government could seek bilateral talks with Pyongyang, but only within the framework of talks discussing the North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
“Since the abduction is an issue that is particular to the people of Japan, it is natural for us to have negotiations to talk exclusively about the abduction issue with North Korea provided that North Korea is willing to open up. But that doesn’t mean that we are trying to separate this abduction issue from other two major issues, which are nuclear power and missiles.”
Furuya said the Abe government is intensifying diplomatic efforts to internationalize the abduction issue by bringing it to a recently established panel of the U.N. Human Rights Council tasked with investigating human rights abuses in North Korea.
This week, the Japanese government hosted a symposium in Washington to raise awareness of the abduction issue where U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King delivered a speech.
Reported in Korean by Mi Jeong Hibbitts for VOA Korean Service. Written in English by Jennifer Yoo.
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