North Korea on Thursday confirmed that a missing South Korean man allegedly kidnapped decades ago is living in the North, and said that it would allow him to meet with his South Korean mother this month.
Kim Young-nam disappeared from a beach on South Korea's southwest coast in 1978 when he was 16. His family thought he had drowned but learned later from the South Korean government that he was believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents and forced to live there.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency didn't confirm this, but said the country had "succeeded in confirming his whereabouts." The North did not say how Kim got into the country.
"The North side decided to arrange a reunion with his mother in the South side," KCNA said, adding the North was motivated by "humanitarianism."
South Korea's Unification Ministry hailed the North's move as a "future-looking attitude" and said it would make efforts to address the plight of other South Korean abductees.
Kim is among nearly 500 South Korean civilians believed to have been kidnapped by the communist state and currently held there. North Korea claims they voluntarily defected.
"To apply pressure and insult the other party could make it more difficult to resolve the abductee issue by inviting its backlash," Cho Yong-nam, director general for the ministry's Social and Cultural Exchanges Bureau, told a news briefing.
Kim's case drew recent attention following allegations from media and civic groups in South Korea and Japan that he had married Megumi Yokota, a Japanese woman who the North has admitted it kidnapped, and fathered a daughter with her.
South Korea and Japan conducted DNA tests on samples taken from Yokota's daughter in North Korea and Kim's mother in South Korea and found there is a high possibility that the two have a blood relationship.
Japanese officials took the samples from the daughter, Kim Hae Kyong, 18, during a visit to North Korea in 2002 and later gave them to the South. The results contrasted with North Korea's claim that Yokota's husband is a North Korean man named Kim Chol Jun.
Thursday's report from the North didn't mention if Kim Young-nam was married.
North Korea said it would have Kim and his 78-year-old mother, Choi Gye-wol, meet during a round of family reunions scheduled for later this month at the North's Diamond Mountain resort. Warmer relations between the two Koreas have led to some reunions of the millions of family members who remain separated following the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1945 and the Korean War.
"I am glad," Choi told a news conference. She said she would hug her son when she sees him and ask "how much pain" he went through.
Shigeru Yokota, father of Megumi Yokota, said he was wary of any reunions that will take place under the eyes of North Korean authorities.
"We are fully aware that, whatever statement the (kidnap) victims or families make, it will not be one that can be said to reflect the truth," said a statement issued by Yokota and a civic group for kidnap victims and their families.
In 2002, North Korea admitted abducting 13 Japanese citizens over the years to help train spies in Japanese language and culture, and allowed five to return home. Pyongyang said the other eight, including Yokota, were dead. Many in Japan believe she is still alive and living in North Korea.
Japan's government said it would work closely with South Korea on the issue.
"Japan has already had a variety of experiences in negotiations on the abduction issue, so we can share our experiences with the South Korean government and the victims' families," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo.
In Seoul, Choi Sung-yong, an activist working for South Korean abductees, called on North Korea to admit its kidnappings of South Koreans and send them home. "Listen Chairman Kim Jong Il: Our families' wish is to confirm the fate of abductees," Choi said, referring to North Korea's leader.
Besides the civilian abductees, South Korea also estimates 542 soldiers from the 1950-53 Korean War are still alive in North Korea. North Korea denies holding any POWs.
South Korea has raised the POW and abductee issue in recent high-level talks with North Korea. But North Korea has insisted that it would deal with the matter only as part of discussions on separated families, an indication it has no intention of returning the South Koreans.