Families of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea call for government action
Family members of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea decades ago urged the government on Saturday to seek the swift return of their kin, as Japan marked the 14th anniversary since Pyongyang admitted to the abductions.
“I hope [the government] will put priority on the abduction issue and deal with it separately from missile and nuclear issues,” Shigeo Iizuka, head of the abductees’ family group, said at a gathering of the abductees’ kin and their supporters.
The renewed call to the government by Iizuka, whose sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted in 1978, comes as there has been no substantial progress over the issue since North Korea agreed with Abe’s government in May 2014 to reinvestigate the abductions.
At the gathering, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the relatives of the abduction victims that his government remains committed to resolving the long-stalled abduction issue, recounting the signing of the Pyongyang Declaration between Japan and North Korea on September 17, 2002.
The document was signed on the occasion of a landmark summit between the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. At the summit, Kim admitted – for the first time – that Japanese nationals had been abducted by North Korean agents and apologised for the actions.
“We will be abandoning our historical duty if we continue to take more time [to resolve the issue],” Abe said. “We will strongly urge North Korea to settle the issue through dialogue.”
Resolving the abduction issue has become a pressing one over the years, as many of the abductees’ relatives are getting old and want to see their missing kin while they are still alive.
But making progress on the issue appears to be harder as North Korea has continued ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests in defiance of international opposition. The country this year alone has conducted several missile and two nuclear tests, prompting Japan to impose new and tougher sanctions against it.
Pyongyang’s latest and fifth nuclear test on September 9 prompted Japan to seek additional unilateral sanctions. After Tokyo tightened its sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests earlier this year, North Korea said in February it was suspending the probe to reinvestigate the abductions.
Abe also vowed at the rally, attended by the abductees’ kin and their supporters, to make a strong case for the abduction issue during the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York.
“I will make sure to stress the importance of resolving the abduction issue at the UN and strengthen our cooperation with the international community,” he said.
Prior to the rally, Abe also met with abductees’ kin including Iizuka in Tokyo. Iizuka asked Abe during their meeting not to “leave the abduction issue behind”.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abduction victims but suspects North Korea’s involvement in more disappearances. The abduction issue remains a stumbling block for Japan and North Korea in normalising diplomatic ties.