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Clinton rescue casts spotlight on Japan families’ plight

August 10, 2009

KOREA-NORTH/

The tearful homecoming of two U.S. journalists released from a North Korean jail during a lightning visit by former U.S. President Bill Clinton this week left relatives of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang’s agents dissatisfied with their own government’s efforts.

“Why is it that Japan has been taking so long to bring them back, while the United States negotiated a release that quick?” Kyodo news agency quoted Kayoko Arimoto, the mother of a missing abductee as saying this week.

In a surprise move similar to Clinton’s visit, then Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi swooped into Pyongyang in 2002 for a meeting with leader Kim Jong-il, a tactic that netted him a partial success: the return of five of 13 Japanese citizens North Korea admitted to having kidnapped to help train its spies. Pyongyang said the others were dead. But relatives of the eight plus a further four Japan says were also abducted, have refused to give up hope.

Successive prime ministers have vowed to bring the abductees home and Prime Minister Taro Aso visited the site where a 13-year-old girl was abducted in 1977 before kicking off his election campaign in the region this month. The main opposition Democratic Party has said it will also insist on progress on the abductions before it will provide North Korea with aid, if it takes power this month.

Though decades have passed since the kidnappings, suggesting that the missing victims may not have survived their ordeal in North Korea has become taboo.

One victim’s family is suing television commentator Soichiro Tahara for 10 million yen ($100,000) for saying he thought the abductees were dead. A television ethics watchdog has also decided to look into his comments, Kyodo news agency said on Friday.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

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