OBAMA, Japan – Five visiting Japanese who were abducted decades ago by North Korean spies will now stay indefinitely in Japan, the Japanese government said Thursday.
The abductees arrived in Tokyo on Oct. 15, expecting to stay no more than two weeks. But their relatives in Japan said they should not have to return to North Korea.
Instead, the relatives said, Japan should force North Korea to let family members who stayed behind in North Korea join the abductees in Japan.
"The five abductees will stay in Japan," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at an evening news conference. "We will strongly urge North Korea to ensure the safety of families remaining in North Korea and their early return."
He said it was "indispensable and urgent" that the abductees' relatives be returned to Japan.
The five are the only known survivors of 13 Japanese whom North Korea admits abducting in the 1970s and early 80s. Both the Japanese and North Korean governments have said they are free to come and go as they please. But the abductees may have a hard time persuading North Korea to let them and their families resettle permanently in Japan.
The visit to Japan followed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's surprise admission at a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last month that the North's agents had carried out the kidnappings.
North Korea has invited the abductees' relatives in Japan to visit the North, but they have refused, saying that the abductees' children must first be allowed to visit Japan.
According to media reports, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official said Pyongyang will allow the five Japanese to return here permanently with their children if they choose.
But the reports said the official balked at returning the children to Japan right away, and criticized Japan for overreacting to the abduction issue. He said it was much less significant than Japan's often brutal colonial rule of Korea from 1910-1945, the reports said.
Japanese and North Korean officials are to meet next week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for talks on establishing diplomatic relations between the countries, and the abduction issue is expected to be high on the Japanese agenda.
Further complicating matters were DNA test results released Thursday that confirmed another abductee's child is alive and well in North Korea. The child's mother, Megumi Yokota, was abducted in 1977, but is listed by North Korea among the eight abductees who have died.
In Tokyo, Yokota's parents reacted with excitement when they received word of the tests results showing they have a 15-year-old granddaughter, who goes by the name Kim Hea Kyong and lives with her father in Pyongyang.
Shigeru Yokota, the girl's grandfather, said he wants to bring Kim back to Japan.
"Since she's junior high school age, she will be interested in seeing Tokyo Disneyland. I want to take her to theme parks and Kyoto," he said, beaming.
But he also said he doubts the North's claim about Megumi's death.
Of the abductees, Megumi Yokota's case was particularly tragic.
Kidnapped when she was just 13 while on her way home from junior high school badminton practice, she is the youngest known victim.
According to North Korea, she married a North Korean man after being taken to the communist country, but suffered from severe depression and killed herself at a mental facility in 1993.
Also Thursday, news reports said Tokyo was considering granting permanent resident status in Japan to the American husband of the fifth returning abductee, Hitomi Soga.
The husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, of Rich Square, N.C., is one of four Americans who allegedly deserted their army posts in South Korea in the 1960s. Japanese officials say Jenkins, 62, is reluctant to leave the North for fear he will be extradited to the United States.
After hearing that Tokyo wanted the abductees to stay longer in Japan, Soga released a statement saying: "Receiving this sudden notification, I was surprised and embarrassed."